PTSD in Women

PTSD is the common abbreviation for post-traumatic stress disorder, an anxiety-related disorder that can appear in people who go through some form of physical and/or mental trauma. Because of the condition’s common association with the after effects of warfare, many people think of PTSD primarily as a men’s or a combat soldier’s illness. However, some of the most prominent traumas associated with the disorder are not war-related, and women develop post-traumatic stress more than twice as frequently as men. In addition, women commonly develop different types of PTSD symptoms than men, and also tend to develop specific additional health problems.

PTSD Basics

People with PTSD develop certain symptoms in the aftermath of a traumatic event, including some form of recurrent, unwanted mental and emotional reliving of the event; avoidance of things that trigger memories of the event; inability to remember key aspects of the event; and sleeplessness or unusually alert, irritable, or vigilant states of mind. Many people develop these symptoms very soon after a traumatic event occurs; however, doctors won’t officially diagnose the presence of PTSD until at least one month has passed. In some cases, the symptoms of post-traumatic stress fade within three months or less. In other cases, symptoms of the disorder last for significantly longer periods of time. In addition, some people develop a delayed form of PTSD that doesn’t appear until six months or later after a triggering event.

Underlying Causes in Women

Nearly 8 percent of all Americans have symptoms that qualify them for a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis. While 4 to 5 percent of men develop the disorder, fully 10 to 11 percent of women develop PTSD. For both men and women, rape and physical abuse during childhood rank as primary triggering events for the onset of post-traumatic stress. Other events commonly experienced by women who develop the disorder include child sexual abuse, sexual assault, other forms of physical attack, and threats of violence from a person armed with a weapon. Women probably develop post-traumatic stress disorder more frequently than men for several reasons, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD. First, compared to men, women have significantly higher risks for various forms of sexual assault and sexual abuse. In turn, sexually invasive acts are more likely to produce a mentally damaging after effect than most other forms of trauma. Additionally, when women experience traumatic events, they tend to blame themselves rather than outside perpetrators involved in those events. Other factors that contribute to a woman’s risks for the onset of PTSD include experiencing an injury during a traumatic event; having a previous history of anxiety, depression or some other form of mental health disorder; displaying signs of severe trauma immediately after an event; experiencing a potentially fatal form of trauma; having a poor social support network; and experiencing repeated traumatic events.

Common Symptoms in Women

While all people with PTSD share a common general group of symptoms, men and women tend to manifest different specific problems within this larger symptom group. For instance, men tend to have particular problems with increased levels of anger and a related inability to control outbursts and other manifestations of that anger. Women, on the other hand, tend to have increased difficulty feeling or expressing emotions. They also generally try harder than men to suppress or avoid traumatic memories, and tend to develop forms of alertness and excessive vigilance that make them jumpy.

Associated Health Problems

Both women and men with PTSD commonly develop additional health problems in combination with their anxiety-related symptoms. In order, the most common additional problems found in men with the disorder are alcohol abuse or addiction, depression, a mental health condition called conduct disorder, and drug abuse or addiction. The number one associated health problem in women with PTSD is depression. In order, other common problems include phobias toward specific things, places or situations; a mental health condition called social phobia or social anxiety disorder; and alcohol abuse or addiction.

PTSD in Women Soldiers

Women in the United States armed forces don’t typically participate directly in combat. Despite this fact, roughly 30 percent of both male and female US troops who have seen duty in war zones develop PTSD at some point in their lifetime. Current estimates of PTSD rates among active-duty soldiers range from 6 to 20 percent.

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