Women Are Genetically Predisposed to Developing PTSD


Women are genetically predisposed to developing post-traumatic stress disorder even more so than men, a new study suggests, even though many Americans still widely think PTSD is mostly a male combat veteran’s disease.

A study published this week in Molecular Psychiatry showed that three in 10 European-American women who are diagnosed with PTSD can link their illness to genetic variants. Women overall are known to be twice as likely to develop PTSD than men.

Credit: AmenClinics, CC BY-SA 2.0

The researchers combed through 11 previous studies on the topic of genes and PTSD.  They looked for common genetic markers to establish evidence of a genetic risk for PTSD. The study needs to be replicated with up to 75,000 people, with about a third having a PTSD diagnosis, to establish specific PTSD genes.

Lead researcher Karestan Koenen of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health told CNN, “Some people seem to be very resilient (to trauma) and some people seem to struggle with it.”

Added Rachel Yehuda, professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine, in the CNN report: “The risk for PTSD is more nuanced than the genes you inherit from your parents.”

Related: Decreased Sex Drive in Women Is More Complicated Than Hormones

Women Who Suffer Sexual Abuse Are at Greater Risk

Women who are victims of sexual abuse often develop PTSD. Women who lose a child can, too. In fact, anybody who lives through any sort of traumatic, possibly near-death experience may develop PTSD.

Earlier this year, researchers found yet another explanation for why some women are at greater risk of developing PTSD: Low estrogen levels.

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The study found that women’s PTSD may be aggravated during menstrual cycles as well as during a traumatic event. The findings suggest that estrogen may be a possible therapy for women who suffer from PTSD, when appropriate.

Women who suffer from PTSD may face problems with triggers when they become a parent. “The sickness and panic was there when I changed diapers, bathed them, gave affection, when affection was requested, when I breastfed, when I disciplined either of them – it became the norm for me to feel ‘off’ anytime I was in the role of mom,” wrote Christine Cissy White on a blog called ACES Connection.

These feelings can be particularly pronounced among mothers who suffered sexual abuse as a child. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, one in five girls will suffer sexual abuse, compared to one in 20 boys.

Related: This Popular 1980s Video Game Could Prevent PTSD

A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.”