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    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD Symptoms in Women Not to Bypass

    Updated 27 August 2020 |
    Published 12 February 2020
    Fact Checked
    Reviewed by Eugenia Tikhonovich, MD, Obstetrician-Gynecologist, Medical Consultant
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    Post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD, is a mental health condition triggered by a traumatic event. PTSD, which affects people regardless of gender, can be caused by personally experiencing or witnessing a distressing event.

    What is PTSD?

    Because of the body’s natural “fight or flight” response, it’s common for an individual to feel afraid both during and after a traumatic situation. This is an appropriate body response that is meant to protect a person from harm.

    After a triggering event, most people who experience these common physical and mental responses are able to cope well and move forward from the experience. However, people who continue to experience flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, or uncontrollable thoughts may be suffering from PTSD.

    Differences between PTSD in women and men

    While it is true that PTSD can happen to any individual, there are statistics that show a difference in its prevalence related to gender. Women are reported to have a likelihood of PTSD that is 2–3 times higher than men. It’s present in 10–12 percent of women and 5–6 percent of men.

    It’s difficult to confidently say what contributes to the gender differences in the rates of PTSD. There are a variety of factors that have been exhaustively researched and that need to be considered, including:

    • Bodily response: Women and men have different chemical and biological responses to stressful events. Women are more likely to have a dysregulated hypothalamic/adrenal/pituitary (HPA) axis response. The dysregulation of this hormonal pathway is often involved in the development of PTSD.
    • Diagnosis criteria: Women may be diagnosed more often because of the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis.
    • Types of trauma: The most commonly reported trauma for women is sexual assault or child sexual abuse — this type of experience is more likely to lead to PTSD.
    • Amounts of traumatic exposure: Men experience more potentially traumatic experiences (PTEs) than women, but their reported PTEs are less commonly linked to PTSD.

    PTSD symptoms

    PTSD symptoms often present differently according to gender. These differences are important to understand, especially as PTSD may be harder to recognize in men.

    General PTSD symptoms are typically classified into four categories:

    • Re-experiencing symptoms: This would include things like repeated, involuntary, unwanted memories, distressing dreams or nightmares, and flashbacks of the traumatic event.
    • Avoidance symptoms: Avoidance may include people, locations, activities, tangible objects, or specific situations. People may try to avoid thinking or talking about what happened, often through numbing practices.
    • Cognition and mood symptoms: This can present as distorted beliefs about oneself or the actions of others. Symptoms may also present as fear, shame, anger, or guilt. Many also exhibit a decreased ability to enjoy things or people they previously enjoyed.
    • Arousal and reactivity symptoms: Behaviors may include being irritable and having angry outbursts; acting recklessly or in a self-destructive way; being easily startled; or having problems concentrating or sleeping.

    Men typically present with more arousal and reactivity symptoms. Male PTSD symptoms may include:

    • Irritability 
    • Impulsivity 
    • Violent behaviors 
    • Exaggerated startle response 
    • Substance abuse 
    • Paranoia

    Women typically present with more cognition, mood, and avoidance symptoms. Female PT