Why Is PTSD In Women So Common?

Reviewed by Melinda (Santa) Gladden, LCSW

Published 12/10/2020

When it comes to health issues, women are often more likely to develop certain illnesses. It seems like no matter what mental health disorder you are talking about, women are the most susceptible. In addition, PTSD is no different. Women are more than twice as likely to develop PTSD as men.

The Statistics of PTSD

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In fact, PTSD tends to strike 10% to 12% of women compared to 6% to 8% of men in the United States, which is strange since 60% of men and 50% of women experience a traumatic event. So, why is it that women are more likely to get PTSD than men even though females are less likely to have a traumatic experience?

After a scary event, it is common to be afraid or anxious but, in most people, these feelings fade away after a few days. However, some people continue to suffer from the effects for months or even years after. This has been researched repeatedly to find out why some people develop PTSD while others do not.

Who is more at Risk?

Some of the studies show that those who are lacking a good support system, have a family member with a mental illness, or continue to experience stressful situations after the original incident are more likely to get PTSD than others. For example, in a group of 10 people who were in the same traumatic incident, only four of them developed PTSD and they were the ones who:

  • Had previously been victims of traumatic incidents
  • Had a history of some type of abuse like sexual, emotional, or physical
  • Have a family member with depression or PTSD
  • Have a history of addiction to drugs or alcohol
  • Do not have a good social support system
  • Continue to have stress after the original traumatic event

The Type of Traumatic Event May Be to Blame

Another thing that seems to be a risk factor for PTSD is the type of traumatic event. For example, women are more likely than men to have traumatic events in which they are seriously physically hurt such as sexual or physical abuse. As many as 50% of women who are raped develop PTSD.

The Signs of PTSD

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If you are not sure whether you have PTSD, you can take a PTSD test online. It is fast and easy to do. There are specific signs of PTSD as well, separated by four different categories, which include avoidance signs, arousal, and reactivity signs, re-experiencing signs, and cognitive and mood signs.

Avoidance Signs

  • Avoiding places and people that remind you of the trauma
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Thinking your future is bleak
  • Isolating yourself from family and friends
  • Staying home from work
  • Not going to family gatherings or social events

Arousal and Reactivity Signs

  • Changes in sleep pattern like not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep
  • Being on edge or easily startled
  • Frequent outbursts of anger or aggression
  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Having a short temper with loved ones
  • Hyper attentive or constantly watching for danger

Re-experiencing Signs

  • Often experiencing scary or frightening thoughts
  • Flashbacks or memories of the trauma out of the blue
  • Having nightmares or night terrors
  • Anxiety attacks that include rapid heart rate, chest pain, headache, dizziness, trembling, and even fainting

Cognitive and Mood Signs

  • Having a hard time making decisions
  • Trouble focusing or concentrating on anything
  • Misplaced feelings of guilt or shame
  • Not participating in activities that you used to enjoy
  • Unable to feel happy no matter what is going on
  • Forgetting certain parts of the trauma

How Does PTSD Affect Women Differently than Men?

Another reason that a larger number of women are reported to have PTSD than men is because of the criteria. Since women seem to experience PTSD in different ways than men, they are more likely to have the specific symptoms that the experts look for when diagnosing the disorder. Females are more likely to report:

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  • Self-shame or blame
  • Mood and anxiety disorder
  • A feeling of numbness or dissociation
  • Avoiding places and people that remind you of the trauma
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Thinking your future is bleak
  • Isolating yourself from family and friends
  • Staying home from school or work
  • Not going to family gatherings or social events

Men were more likely to report signs like:

  • Anger
  • Hypervigilance
  • Paranoia
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Impulsive acts
  • Outbursts of anger

Are Women More Susceptible Because They Have More Severe Trauma?

Other studies show that women have more violent or severe traumatic events than men do. For instance, the types of trauma women experience tend to be rape, beatings, and other types of abuse while men are more often subjected to witnessing death, disasters, or accidents.

Women Are More Often Victims of Abuse

Another factor that may be the cause of the imbalance is the number of women versus men that are victims of abuse. Women are more than three times as likely to be victims of sexual, emotional, or physical abuse as men are. More victims of abuse mean a higher number of those with PTSD.

Could it Really Be Hormones?

Another study done by scientists at Emory University found that a particular hormone named pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide, or PACAP, was higher in those suffering from PTSD. The study was done by testing victims of trauma. Some had developed PTSD and others did not. In addition, the higher the PACAP levels, the worse the PTSD symptoms were.

Women were found to have higher levels of PACAP and a variation of a gene for PAC1 that responds to estrogen. What’s more, the PAC1 was not in the gene but in the epigenome, which means it was acquired over time rather than being a genetic issue. This suggests that women are more susceptible because of their experiences during their lifetime.

PACAP is a polypeptide that is responsible for controlling the nervous system, adrenaline, and pituitary secretion, which is a regulator of your hormones. When hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are released, the fight or flight response is activated, causing the stress responses that produce symptoms of PTSD.

Maybe it is Just That Women Are More Likely to Seek Help

Even though men are more likely to be subjected to trauma, they are less likely to seek help, which could be another reason for the different results in men and women. When you look at all these factors together and add up the numbers, it only makes sense that women have a higher rate of PTSD than men do. So, how do we treat the problem?

Treatment is important no matter whether you are a man or a woman. If you do not get treatment, your life can be drastically affected including having trouble with relationships, the possibility of job loss, and you may even have legal troubles. Although men are more likely to self-medicate than women are, it happens to both and can mess up your life even more if you do not get treatment as soon as possible.

Relationships in Turmoil

Relationships are affected by untreated PTSD because of symptoms like avoiding activities you used to enjoy, having bouts of aggression and angry outbursts, and isolating yourself from loved ones. In fact, 5% to 10% of those who have PTSD have relationship troubles.

Treating PTSD at Home

Although you still need to seek professional treatment, you may want to start by trying some self-treatments at home. There are many things you can do at home to ease your symptoms of PTSD. Some of these include:

Exercise

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Exercise is beneficial for any kind of mental health disorder because it increases your levels of endorphins, which are the hormones that make you feel happy. There are even chemicals in your brain that activate from a physical activity called endocannabinoids, which are cannabinoid receptors. These great neurotransmitters are important in regulating mood and memory.

All it takes is a little bit of physical activity several times a week to increase those endorphins and other feel-good chemicals. It also gives you more confidence and gets your blood flowing, encouraging your body to concentrate more on your physical being, allowing your mental well-being to level out. Do some laps, play basketball or soccer, do some gardening, or just take a walk around the block.

Meditation

For those who cannot do much physical activity, practicing meditation can be done on a daily basis without any stress on your body at all. It is simple to do and you do not even have to go outside. Unless you want to. Just follow these steps:

  • Find a comfortable spot to sit for several moments and focus on your breathing.
  • Try to pay attention to whether your breath is coming from your belly or your chest and how you inhale and exhale.
  • Continue to do this for two minutes, pushing out your stomach when you inhale and contracting your stomach while you exhale.

Journaling

One of the very best ways to treat any kind of mental health illnesses is through journaling. Writing down your thoughts and feelings as well, as how you react to those thoughts and feelings will help. You can keep track of how you are managing your stress. Write in your journal daily or just whenever you have a PTSD attack or symptom. Just the act of writing down your emotions can allow you to let go of those stressors.

Talk to Someone

By far, the most effective treatment is to talk to a professional. In addition, you do not even have to leave the house to talk to a therapist with online therapy. This is specifically beneficial to those who have anxiety attacks or flashbacks. You do not need an appointment either so you can contact someone today.

NOTES: No changes needed.

  • Does not go against what is clinically accepted.
  • Does not encourage mindsets or practices that may be harmful to the reader.
  • Is factual and up-to-date.