Research shows that men and women may show different signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The illness is also more likely to affect them after trauma, but it typically takes women far longer to be diagnosed.
According to statistics, women are twice as likely as men to experience PTSD in their lifetime. Women are more likely than men to remember the bad things that happened to them and to have PTSD symptoms for a longer time.
Find out a few of the main symptoms of PTSD in women. Early diagnosis can help ease a person’s pain and make treatment more likely to work, so being aware of these signs can be helpful.
PTSD Symptoms in Women
It’s common to experience anger, anxiety, or fear following a distressing event. In the days and weeks following a traumatic event, these emotions gradually fade for many people, but these symptoms can worsen for some people.
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Distress, anxiety, and reliving the traumatic incident are symptoms of PTSD. Sometimes people try to avoid things that could trigger memories of their traumatic experiences. Among the typical symptoms of PTSD are:
- Intrusive ideas
- Avoiding any traumatic reminders
- Startling easily
- A self-destructive behavior
- Loss of enthusiasm for activities
- Emotionally distant
People who have PTSD also have an increased risk of suicide.
How PTSD Symptoms Differ in Women
Women report more distress than males do for almost all of the symptoms included on the PTSD Checklist, Civilian Version, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders (PCL-C). A self-report measure called the PTSD Checklist has 17 items on it that are correlated to the main PTSD symptoms.
PTSD symptoms that appear to be more prevalent in women include the following:
One of PTSD’s primary symptoms is avoidance. It may entail emotional release, which includes avoiding ideas and sensations that can trigger memories of the traumatic experiences. Avoiding people, places, or other environmental triggers that bring back traumatic memories is another example of behavioral avoidance.
While avoiding thoughts or feelings may alleviate distress in the short term, evidence indicates that doing so can exacerbate PTSD symptoms in the long run.
Another significant symptom of PTSD that entails a heightened state of worry is hyperarousal. Some symptoms include:
- Heightened startle response
- Issues with sleep
- Difficulties concentrating
- Panic attacks
According to research, women with PTSD who served in the military tend to test more hyperaroused than men.
Re-experiencing, which entails having intrusive, unpleasant thoughts or memories about the incident, is another significant symptom of PTSD. People may experience this in various ways, such as by thinking about the trauma frequently, having nightmares, or having flashbacks when it seems like the trauma is reoccurring.
Because people might be unable to distinguish between a flashback and these symptoms, they can be upsetting and frightening.
People react physically and emotionally as they would if confronted with a genuine threat because reliving feels all too real.
Shutting off feelings that could be overpowering or extremely upsetting is a part of emotional numbness. It frequently manifests as a sense of social isolation, a lack of emotion, a loss of interest, and difficulties feeling good emotions.
It is a typical symptom of PTSD and is used as a coping mechanism to escape the unpleasant thoughts or memories associated with the experience.
Comorbidities and Complications
Other ailments could be mistaken for PTSD or even present concurrently. Such circumstances could exist in the following ways:
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- Chronic stress condition
- Adjustment disorder
- drinking disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Major depression
- panic attack
- Substance use disorder
People with PTSD frequently use unhealthy coping techniques, including alcohol or other drugs, as a means of easing their symptoms.
Why PTSD Affects Women Differently
Why do PTSD symptoms differ between men and women? One theory focuses on how men and women perceive mental health issues differently. Men are more likely to be impacted by externalizing disorders, whereas women are more likely to experience internalizing diseases (such as anxiety and depression) or substance use disorders).
Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men, which makes sense given that the diagnostic criteria for the disorder tend to place more emphasis on internalizing symptoms. Men may be more likely than women to experience problems following trauma characterized by externalizing symptoms, such as substance abuse.
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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that it often takes men a year after the ailment first manifests before they receive a diagnosis and begin therapy. Contrarily, for women, the interval between the onset of symptoms and diagnosis is often four years.
Untreated PTSD can have detrimental effects on one’s physical and mental well-being. Untreated PTSD patients may be more likely to utilize harmful coping techniques, such as alcohol or drug abuse. Physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, and sexual dysfunction are also common among women.
The Differences Between PTSD in Men vs. Women
Mental health professionals concur that PTSD can occasionally manifest itself differently in women than it does in men. For instance, women with PTSD are more likely to have anxiety and depression and difficulty expressing or managing their emotions. They also tend to steer clear of situations and things that bring up painful memories for them. Men with PTSD are more likely to use drugs or alcohol to numb their trauma, whereas women are less likely to do so.
According to the charity group Solace for Mothers, some women who struggle in the delivery room also experience a specific form of PTSD, which, if untreated, can follow them throughout their parenting experience. It might also explain why some women decide against having more children since they do not want to experience childbirth once more. Comparing this to postpartum depression is different. Solace for Mothers aims to assist traumatized women and avert birth trauma.
People have a better understanding of the reality that PTSD is a severe medical issue that is also very treatable when they are taught about how it might affect women.
According to Dr. Cira, “women sometimes feel the need to be flawless, and admitting to something they see as a weakness may feel like the last thing they want to do.” Women are frequently told to perform all tasks flawlessly, which is impossible. However, it does not alter the reality that individuals continue to experience this pressure and feel this way.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which focuses on how a person evaluates and responds to specific feelings, thoughts, and memories, is one of the psychological treatments that has been shown to be effective in helping women cope with the symptoms of PTSD. Exposure therapy, which is more of a behavioral treatment for PTSD, is another type of therapy. By forcing someone to face the issues that contributed to their trauma, it can reduce their dread and anxiety.
Normalizing PTSD sufferers’ symptoms and experiences is the first step in effective trauma treatment. What does it mean to “normalize”?
- Recognize that physical pain may be part of the process. Some people who struggle with PTSD can have severe migraines, pain in the back, or even stomach and digestive issues.
- Be aware that “flashbacks and/or nightmares” can occur in anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. They can often be triggered by sounds, smells, or phrases someone says.
This will help somewhat with the guilt, but making peace with a complicated past is a long process, and dealing with the guilt is no exception. But with the appropriate therapist, there is hope, especially when you find a therapist who knows how PTSD affects a person’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors, relationships, and self-image.
Treating PTSD in Women
The significant therapies for PTSD are medication and counseling. Since PTSD affects everyone so differently, treatment will likely be individualized to suit your specific symptoms.
Treatment might span weeks, months, or longer and may include:
- Cognitive processing therapy (CPT). CPT is a form of talk therapy that is frequently used to assist patients in overcoming PTSD and associated symptoms.
- A study including women with complicated PTSD discovered that CPT was a successful treatment strategy for PTSD symptoms.
- Protracted exposure therapy. Prolonged exposure therapy is a different type of talk therapy where a therapist guides you through the painful incident. It can assist you in overcoming the trauma.
- EMDR therapy (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). To process painful memories and alter how you behave, EMDR involves talking about the experience while concentrating on a particular visual object.
- Medicines. Your treatment plan for managing the symptoms of PTSD may also include taking medications, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs.
What does PTSD look like in a woman?
The following symptoms are more prevalent in women with PTSD: prone to being startled easily, Having more difficulty feeling emotions, and feeling numbness. Keep traumatic reminders away.
What does PTSD feel like physically?
Physical symptoms of PTSD might include elevated blood pressure and heart rate, exhaustion, tense muscles, nausea, headaches, back pain, and other types of pain. The person experiencing pain may be unaware of the link between it and a traumatic experience.
What do PTSD attacks feel like?
Avoid remembering what happened, including thoughts, feelings, people, and locations—having trouble recalling specifics of the incident. Mood, memory, or thought habits change. Hypervigilance, restlessness, irrational wrath, or destructive behavior.
What are some unusual signs of PTSD?
Nervous sweating is a common symptom of PTSD, and yawning might help cool down the brain when it gets too hot. Additionally, the anxiety that frequently accompanies PTSD might cause you to breathe more quickly, which can trick your brain into believing you’re not receiving enough oxygen and cause you to yawn.
What does a mild case of PTSD look like?
Uncomplicated PTSD symptoms include avoiding reminders of the traumatic incident, nightmares, flashbacks, irritability, mood swings, and changes in relationships. Treatment options for simple PTSD include therapy, medication, or a combination.
Scientists have recently turned their attention to better comprehend the underlying causes of trauma due to advancements in their understanding of how PTSD affects humans. Finding assistance after a terrible incident can be difficult. After a traumatic event, it’s especially crucial to take care of yourself and other people.
You can always consult with your primary care physician if you’re unclear about where to turn for assistance. To find options for seeking more help, you can also search online for social services, hotlines, or mental health specialists.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the most common cause of PTSD in women?
For women, sexual assault or child sexual abuse is the most frequent trauma. In their lifetime, about one in three women will be sexually assaulted. Women are more frequently the victims of sexual assault than men.
How do I know if I am suffering PTSD?
This occurs when a person uncontrollably and vividly recalls the terrible incident as:
- Recurring, upsetting feelings or pictures.
- Physical afflictions include aches, perspiration, nausea, or shaking.
What does a PTSD trigger feel like?
They evoke vivid memories. It could seem like you are going through it again. You may have triggers in the form of images, sounds, odors, or even thoughts that in some way conjure up the traumatic incident. A clear PTSD trigger might be watching a news broadcast about an incident.
What happens if PTSD goes untreated?
Although PTSD can be challenging to treat. If left untreated, the mental health disorder can lead to serious psychological, physical, and social problems. Veterans who have PTSD run the danger of experiencing not only emotional pain but also several life-threatening illnesses.