Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Here’s a not so fun fact: women have a two to three times higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than men.
Because of this, it’s pretty important to understand symptoms of PTSD in women. That way, if you have it, you can identify it and get proper treatment.
But what even is PTSD? And what exactly are the signs you may be experiencing it? Keep reading to find out.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, experiencing a traumatic event (like an assault, child sexual abuse, an accident, a natural disaster and other negative life events) can seriously impact someone’s mental health. If there are long-term effects of that trauma, it may be post-traumatic stress disorder.
Approximately nine million people in the United States are affected by PTSD — and 37 percent of those have severe symptoms.
As we mentioned above, women are more likely than men to develop PTSD. That said, anyone who has experienced trauma can develop it.
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, certain types of trauma — specifically combat and sexual assault — may make someone more likely to experience PTSD.
What happens after trauma can also influence whether someone experiences this type of disorder.
If someone received social support, it can help prevent PTSD from developing. But stress can make it more likely to occur.
After a traumatic event, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder tend to pop up shortly after the traumatic event.
However, they can remain hidden and emerge much later. PTSD is often diagnosed if symptoms occur for more than a month.
You should also know that while the symptoms of PTSD may be the same for women and men, women experience them differently.
A 2015 study found that women experience more distress than men in almost all symptoms.
So, what are the symptoms? Below are the most common.
Say you were in a car accident and every time you hear a car horn, you feel the same intense fear you felt at the time of the crash. That would be considered a re-experiencing symptom.
Other ways people re-experience trauma is through flashbacks (where it feels like you’re right back in the moment), nightmares and intrusive memories or thoughts.
Research has found women may experience this more often than men.
If you find yourself avoiding things that may trigger memories of your trauma, that would fall under avoidance.
Perhaps you avoid a certain person who conjures up certain thoughts or a location that you associate with what happened because overwhelming emotions could ensue.
But this symptom doesn’t just have to do with avoiding physical things. You may also find yourself avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the event.
Women are more likely to experience this symptom of PTSD thank men.
Feeling numb or like you’re dissociating are common experiences among people who have PTSD.
You may also have negative thoughts about yourself or blame yourself for whatever happened, or you may have a tough time remembering the traumatic event.
Additional feelings that would fall under this symptom would be difficulty concentrating, issues recalling important information, feeling blame or guilt and no longer being into things you once enjoyed.
To learn more about this, read our blog on Anxiety & Dissociation.
No, not arousal in that way. This is more about being hypervigilant (maybe you think if you stay super aware, you can prevent another traumatic event from occuring). Other ways this may manifest is through things like:
Angry or emotional outbursts
Constantly feeling on edge
There are a few different treatment options available for those who are dealing with PTSD. Most revolve around therapy of some sort.
But before treatment can begin, you will need to be diagnosed by a mental healthcare provider.
To be diagnosed, they look for adults who have had had the following for at least one month:
A minimum of one avoidance symptom
A minimum of one re-experiencing symptom
A minimum of two mood and cognition symptoms
A minimum of two reactivity symptoms
A minimum of two arousal symptoms
Once diagnosed, a healthcare provider will likely recommend therapy, medication or a combination of both to help with post-traumatic growth. These may include:
This type of therapy has been found to be most effective in the treatment of short-term and long-term PTSD.
The focus of CBT is to identify harmful or negative thought patterns and behaviors and come up with ways to change them.
Within CBT, there are different forms of therapy. Two that are commonly used in PTSD treatment are:
Exposure Therapy: People are asked to face their fears by exposing themselves to the source of their trauma. Exposure can happen in the form of recounting a memory, writing about it, or even going to the actual location of the trauma. It tends to be done gradually, rather than all at once and is important that this is done with the help of a healthcare provider.
Cognitive Restructuring: It’s not uncommon for someone to remember what happened to them differently than what actually happened. Perhaps key parts of the memory are missing or it has strung together in your mind out of order. Along with this, people may feel guilt, shame or embarrassment about parts of their trauma that are not actually their fault. Within this restructuring, people are asked to look at the facts of what happened to gain perspective. Wondering what may happen during your first therapy appointment?
This can reduce the emotional response to memories of what happened.
A healthcare provider may also prescribe medication in conjunction with any of the above therapies.
Usually, an antidepressant will be offered. These can help manage feelings of sadness, worry and anger that coincide with PTSD.
Commonly suggested medications include:
Sertraline or the brand name Zoloft®
Paroxetine or the brand name Paxil®
Fluoxetine or the brand name Prozac®
Venlafaxine or the brand name Effexor® ER
You can read more about these medications (and others) in our guide to anxiety medications.
As we’ve already mentioned, research shows that women have a higher risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder than men do.
To revisit, PTSD can develop after someone experiences a traumatic experience—such as a sexual assault or physical violence.
It also commonly affects military personnel.
You should also know that it can come about after a single event, or ongoing trauma (like domestic violence or emotional abuse).
A healthcare professional can help diagnose this disorder. Generally, if someone experiences the above mentioned symptoms for longer than a month, they most likely have PTSD.
Thankfully, there are treatment options—specifically, in person or online therapy, and medication.
To figure out if you are suffering from PTSD, your first move should be to speak with a mental health professional.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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