Why More Women Develop PTSD Than Men

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In the U.S., the number of women with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is two times higher than for men.

A few studies investigating sex differences in PTSD reveal that several biological, behavioral, and cognitive variables are responsible. However, research into these variables has been scarce until recently.

Hormones and Stress

In 2014 scientists discovered that:

  1. In traumatic situations women have a greater stress hormone response than men.
  2. In men and women the reproductive hormone progesterone is involved in the PTSD stress hormone response.

Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is the stress hormone investigated in the 2014 study. It is released by the brain’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system.

“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 Sex-Related PTSD Issues

Four other factors that may explain the greater incidence of PTSD in women, but require further investigation, include psychological, physiological, and societal issues:

  1. Sleep disturbances and sex hormones likely play a role in PTSD sex differences. Sex hormones influence sleep quality, and both sleep and sex hormones affect the learning and memory functions implicated in PTSD development. Problems sleeping (e.g., insomnia, nightmares) are also symptoms of PTSD.
  2. One investigation showed that more heightened feelings of anxiety, terror, and helplessness during a traumatic event, plus negative thinking about one’s self and the world after the event, might contribute to the higher rate of PTSD in women.
  3. The mix of variables including sex differences in daily and lifetime stressors, cultural pressures, interpersonal difficulties, socioeconomic issues, and incidence of sexual harassment or abuse may partially account for sex differences in PTSD.
  4. Research indicates that strong social networks protect women from PTSD more than men. Social networking may be a powerful tool for recovery in women’s PTSD treatment.

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

Source: Psychiatry Advisor
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