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Saturday, 6 October, 2001, 00:07 GMT 01:07 UK
War prisoner heart risk
British POWs
British POWs in a Japanese camp during WWII
The legacy of harsh conditions in prisoner-of-war camps may be emerging as extra heart disease later in life, say researchers.

A major study of veterans in the US has found that those imprisoned during both World War II and the Korean War has found that older POWs were a quarter more likely to die from heart disease.

This could be due to the stress of imprisonment, say the authors.

The study, reported in the journal Military Medicine also found that former POWs who were suffering from a particular type of symptom more than 30 years ago were more than three times more likely to die from a stroke.

These veterans said they were having trouble seeing in the dark, eye pain or blurred vision, and doctors say this suggested that a poor diet during their captivity might be an influence.

Dr Lawrence Brass, from Yale University School of Medicine, said: "It's hard to tease out physical stress from emotional stress.

"It's likely that people who were poorly fed may have been more poorly treated.

It's likely that people who were poorly fed may have been more poorly treated

Dr Lawrence Brass, Yale University School of Medicine
"In addition, lack of vitamin A, which is also involved in the health of blood vessels, may initiate an injury that shows up decades later."

Other studies by the team have already shown that former POWs have a seven to eight times the risk of having any sort of stroke, rather than just a fatal one.

The mechanisms which relate mental stresses to conditions such as heart disease are poorly understood, although studies have shown that the inability to cope with stress may increase the risk.

Certainly, previous studies of Vietnam veterans have found that those who were plagued with anxiety attacks or depression - symptoms assoicated with post-traumatic stress disorder - were far more likely to suffer from heart problems.

These results held true even after being adjusted for bad health habits such as drinking and smoking which the veterans might have taken up to help them cope with their anxiety.

A British study suggests that more than a third of World War II veterans suffer some form of psychological trauma as a result of their experiences.

See also:

15 Jul 00 | Health
War children may have 'problems'
24 Oct 00 | Health
Head injuries link to Alzheimer's
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