More Women Than Men Have PTSD: A Look At Why


The incidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the U.S. is two times greater for women than for men.

The few studies that looked into sex differences related to PTSD development indicate that multiple behavioral, cognitive, and physiological factors are involved. However, research into these factors has been lacking until recently.

Stress and Reproductive Hormones

What investigators discovered in 2014 is that:

  1. Women have a stronger stress hormone response in their brain than men during difficult or traumatic situations.
  2. The connection between PTSD and the stress hormone response in both sexes involves the reproductive hormone progesterone.

The stress hormone measured in the 2014 study is the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) that is released by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system in the brain.

“While these findings do not directly address why women have higher rates of PTSD, our study suggests that there are sex differences in reactivity of a major stress response system, and that reproductive hormones may interact with stress responses,” said researcher Sabra S. Inslicht, Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco.

More Areas of Concern

Four other areas of concern that might contribute to higher rates of PTSD among women, but require further study, are related to sleep, psychological, and societal factors:

  1. Sleep is a PTSD concern since sex hormones effect sleep quality, and both sex and sleep hormones influence the learning and memory processes involved in PTSD onset. Plus, sleep problems such as insomnia and nightmares are common PTSD symptoms.
  2. One study revealed that more intense feelings of fear, horror, and helplessness when experiencing a traumatic event, and negative thoughts about the world or the self afterward, may contribute to the higher PTSD incidence in women.
  3. The interaction of variables such as everyday and lifelong stressors, cultural influences, interpersonal conflicts, socioeconomic status, and sexual abuse, or harassment need to be assessed for their contribution to sex differences in PTSD.
  4. Studies show that strong social support protects women from PTSD more so than men, and social support might prove to be more significant in women’s PTSD recovery.

“One of the important topics future research should focus on is elucidating roles of men and women’s unique PTSD development, maintenance, and recovery,” says researcher Ihori Kobayashi, Ph.D., Howard University, Washington D.C.

Source: Psychiatry Advisor
Photo credit: I .. C .. U


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