Common PTSD Symptoms in Women

Kristin Hall

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 11/10/2021

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. 

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

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.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms in Women

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. 

Re-Experiencing the Trauma

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.

Avoidance

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.

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Cognition and Mood Symptoms 

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.

Arousal Symptoms 

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:

  • Startling easily

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Angry or emotional outbursts

  • Constantly feeling on edge

How to Treat PTSD

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. These may include: 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

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

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

In this form of therapy, patients are asked to focus on the traumatic memory at the root of their PTSD while also experiencing bilateral stimulation (usually in the form of eye movements). 

This can reduce the emotional response to memories of what happened.

Medication

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:

You can read more about these medications (and others) in our guide to anxiety medications.

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Signs in PTSD in Women

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. 

8 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Olff, M., (2017). Sex and gender differences in post-traumatic stress disorder: an update. European Journal of Psychotraumatology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5632782/
  2. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Posttraumatic-Stress-Disorder
  3. PTSD Basics. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/what/ptsd_basics.asp
  4. Hourani, L., Williams, J., Bray, R., Kandel, D., (2015). Gender differences in the expression of PTSD symptoms among active duty military personnel. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S088761851400173X?via%3Dihub
  5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Medline Plus. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/posttraumaticstressdisorder.html
  6. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/
  7. Treatment and Facts: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/treatment-facts
  8. PTSD Treatments. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments
What’s next?

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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