PTSD and Respiratory Illness Co-occur in 60% of 9/11 Responders


Leaders of Stony Brook Medicine’s World Trade Center Health Program have found that “as many as 60 percent of 9/11 World Trade Center responders continue to experience clinically significant symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and lower respiratory illness,” according to a press release from Stony Brook University. The findings are motivating researchers to more closely examine the relationship of respiratory illness to mental health problems.

Dr. Benjamin Luft, Medical Director of the program, said in the press release that the two conditions so often coexist that they can be thought of as one ailment among WTC responders.

“Now more than 10 years after 9/11, the connection between mental and physical illnesses among responders appears stronger,” said Dr. Luft. “This connection raises important questions about the mechanisms underlying the PTSD and respiratory illness relationship. The next step in our research is to determine how comorbid physical and mental conditions impact the progression of clinical disease and genetic changes in these responders.” The program has five new research projects underway. “Ultimately, the goal is to identify a causal pathway that links the two diseases, in order to identify biomarkers that can be targets for diagnosis and treatment,” stated the press release.

PTSD and Respiratory Illness: A Signature Long-Term Problem of 9/11 Responders (Stony Brook University Press Release on Newswise, September 10, 2014)


  1. “The findings are motivating researchers to more closely examine the relationship of respiratory illness to mental health problems.”
    Please… How about a) they have respiratory illness and PTSD due to the same event hence – correlation doesn’t equal causation b) when you have experienced bad trauma and cannot breath on a daily basis it makes trauma worse? Btw, not getting enough oxygen and having problems breathing triggers fear response which may make PTSD worse?
    But I guess is a genetically based imbalance.

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    • Yeah, I think there should be a distinction between being traumatized by an event, and having a lung-full of asbestos from that event. Together, they’re two different kinds of trauma from the same event that have a relationship that should be kinda obvious to anyone who has stepped outside of the trap of 19th Century, Cartesian mind/body duality.

      Guess some people need a coupla’ centuries to catch on, and being invested in psychiatry as an authority on the “brain” and “mental illness” may cause some people to hang onto that duality like a pacifier that also acts as a lever they can pull to get their paycheck.

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  2. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the respiratory illness was probably caused by a burning skyscraper vaporizing into a heap of fine dust that included a lot of concrete and asbestos. Granted, mental/emotional distress and anxiety can weaken the immune response, and sleep deprivation is about the worst thing that can happen to a person’s immune system, and distress can manifest itself as physical ailments, like stomachaches and headaches; but trying to hang the respiratory illnesses that first responders and civilians at Ground Zero of the fall of the the Twin Towers sounds kind of nutty to me. Most of them have probably had respiratory illnesses since the incident.

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