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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Women: Signs & Symptoms

woman with ptsd

Experiencing a dangerous, scary traumatic event can cause feelings of great fear and loss of control which may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health affliction comprised of continuing symptoms of fear, anxiety and other stress reactions that can disrupt everyday life.

At least 3.5% of people within the U.S. experience a traumatic event sometime during their lifetimes. The more serious the trauma or the more directly its affects, the higher the risk of developing PTSD afterward.
Of those experiencing trauma, about 4% of men and 10% of women develop PTSD. Both men and women with PTSD are more likely to develop physical health problems. PTSD can occur at any age. Those who experience one traumatic event are more likely to be affected by additional potentially traumatic events.

Military veterans as a group are at very high risk of PTSD. About 14% of veterans of the more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan developed PTSD upon returning home.

However, women experiencing trauma, including women in the military, are about twice as likely as men to develop PTSD in their lifetimes and usually have PTSD symptoms longer than men before diagnosis and treatment occur. On average, it takes 4 years for women versus 1 year for men to be diagnosed and obtain appropriate treatment. Women with PTSD are more likely than men with PTSD to have been physically or sexually attacked; among women who are raped, about 50% develop PTSD.

As we head toward PTSD Awareness Day, Capital Women’s Care would like to share vital information to spread awareness about the importance of recognizing the signs and symptoms of PTSD in women to empower you to understand and know when to initiate and seek professional assistance.

Causes of PTSD

There are many traumatic experiences that can initiate symptoms of PTSD, particularly those that are life-threatening, dangerous or violent. Some examples include:

  • combat and other military experiences
  • sexual or physical assault
  • learning about the violent or accidental death or injury of a loved one
  • child sexual or physical abuse
  • serious accidents such as car wrecks
  • natural disasters like fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, or earthquakes
  • terrorist attacks
  • and witnessing effects of a horrible or violent event.

PTSD Symptoms

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms include:

  • Reliving the event, sometimes through nightmares or flashbacks. Physical symptoms, like a racing heart or sweating, may also occur.
  • Avoiding situations that remind of the event. If you were in a car crash, you may avoid being in a car or traveling passed the crash site location.
  • Having negative thoughts and feelings that make daily life difficult. You may have trouble remembering; anger, guilt, or shameful feelings; have more negative thoughts about yourself; feelings of emptiness or numbness; and/or difficulty showing interest or happiness in activities previously enjoyed.
  • Feeling jittery, nervous or tense. Difficulty sleeping and/or concentrating on everyday work, school or reading activities, among others.

Women experiencing PTSD are more likely to exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Become easily startled
  • Have more trouble feeling emotions, experience numbness
  • Avoid trauma reminders
  • Experience depression and anxiousness

PTSD is a highly unique affliction that affects people differently. The majority of those who experience trauma may display no symptoms. Symptoms can appear immediately following a traumatic experience, begin gradually over time or appear intermittently, possibly worsening over months or even years.

If you experience any or all the above symptoms for at least one month and they are severe enough to interfere or disrupt your day-to-day life at home and at work, take the important step and talk to your doctor, nurse or mental health professional.

PTSD Diagnosis

A mental health professional specializing in PTSD can diagnose the condition. It is important to be open and honest regarding your traumatic experience in addition to your feelings, emotions and thoughts with a trusted mental health professional to receive an accurate evaluation and treatment plan. They will be able to determine if your symptoms are PTSD-related, are due to another mental health condition, or are a natural response following a traumatic experience.

PTSD Treatment

Once PTSD is determined, treatment – which may include therapy or counseling, medicine, or combination of both — is prescribed.

Common PTSD therapies include:

  • Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) – A type of talk therapy developed to specifically treat PTSD to help you pay attention to and change your upsetting thoughts.
  • Prolonged exposure therapy (PET) — Another form of talk therapy. The therapist helps you talk about and slowly remember the traumatic event repeatedly over time. Over time, the therapist will guide you through difficult feelings and memories associated with the traumatic event. By confronting the trauma, you may become less sensitive to the memories and related situations.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) — A third type of PTSD therapy. During EMDR, you will be asked to remember and talk about the trauma while also focusing on a specific visual item (therapist’s hand) or listening to a specific sound (beeps.)
  • Medicines — May include antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicine.

Treatments are unique to the individual and their traumatic experience; can last weeks, months or longer; and are not the same for everyone. Treatments that work for one person might not work for another diagnosed with PTSD.

Your local Capital Women’s Care team can offer you assistance and guidance should you have any questions about PTSD or its signs, symptoms, diagnosis and treatments. We’re here to guide you
toward maintaining strong mental health for you and your family.