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Study Finds Link Between WTC Responder PTSD, Respiratory Problems

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Since the attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York on September 11, many responders have developed a number of diseases and disorders including various cancers and respiratory illnesses. An emerging study reveals key links between WTC responders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and respiratory problems.

The study appears in the “FirstView” section of Psychological Medicine online. Benjamin J. Luft, M.D., an Edmund D. Pellegrino Professor of Medicine, and Medical Director of Stony Brook’s World Trade Center Health Program led the study in collaboration with Evelyn Bromet, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor at the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, and Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, along with their team, said Medical News Today.

Those first on the scene to offer rescue and recovery assistance following the WTC attacks have suffered from a number of issues related to their exposure to the toxic dust that engulfed Ground Zero, noted NewsInferno. Current figures indicate that close to 60,000 people are enrolled in health-monitoring and treatment programs associated with the historic attack. Sadly, noted NewsInferno, many WTC responders have died as a result of their work at the sight.

The team noted that it was not just the toxic dust, but the very significant mental trauma that became part of what Medical News Today described as “an extraordinary environmental disaster.” The dangerous combination of combusting toxic jet fuel and debris fires along with the psychological havoc of experiencing severe death tolls and major destruction have led to the two ongoing and persistent health problems that have impacted responders both physically (respiratory illness) and psychologically (PTSD), said the study’s authors, wrote Medical News Today.

“This study illustrates the integral relationship between mental health and physical diseases that WTC responders suffer. The analysis not only shows that relationship but also connects PTSD as a possible co-factor in responders’ diseases, which reinforces our … that the illnesses suffered by 9/11 responders are a compilation of problems that often present as an entire syndrome of diseases and conditions,” said Dr. Luft, according to Medical News Today. 


The study, entitled “Exposure, Probable PTSD and Lower Respiratory Illness Among World Trade Center Rescue, Recovery and Clean-Up Workers,” involved a review of 8,508 traditional responders (mostly police officers) and 12,333 non-traditional responders (maintenance and transportation workers), between July 16, 2002, and September 11, 2008, explained Medical News Today. Reviews took place at WTC Health Program clinics, a New York Metro area network established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Researchers analyzed linked patterns between exposures at the site; WTC-related PTSD; health risk factors, including obesity and smoking; and respiratory symptoms diagnosed by physicians that occurred following September and that continued at examination, along with abnormal pulmonary functioning measured by low forced vital capacity, said Medical News Today.

The team found an “extraordinary” link with respiratory symptoms and PTSD, along with proof that PTSD could possibly be involved in a “resolving role in the relationship between exposure and symptoms,” noted Medical News Today. “The results are indicative that PTSD appears to have a major and complex role in relation to respiratory illnesses in this patient population. Our findings mirror research results found in several veterans’ populations and in patients in primary care settings around the world. Mental and physical health are integrally linked. It is not always obvious which one is the driver, but in the end, what matters is that both mental and physical health are recognized and treated with equal care and respect,” concluded Dr. Bromet, a world-renowned expert in psychiatric epidemiology and disaster research, according to Medical News Today.

“The results are a first step in nailing down the exact relationship between PTSD and respiratory illness. We need to continue to study the relationship and its implications to help us to better treat responders who suffer from multiple mental and physical conditions,” added Dr. Luft.

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