Is PTSD in Women Different Than In Men?

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated November 27, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide or abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Historically, research on trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) focused on men, with many studies centered on how male combat veterans responded to war-related trauma. These studies and public understanding led to the bias that only men or veterans experience PTSD. Women were often not considered in these initial studies. However, recent studies reveal that women are twice as likely to experience PTSD as men. 

PTSD symptoms in women are also different, and the causes are commonly associated more with abuse or sexual assault than combat violence. To understand why PTSD can look different in women, it may be valuable to understand further the distinctive ways many women report their symptoms and the various treatment options available to women living with this condition.  

Are PTSD Symptoms Impacting Your Daily Life?

What Is PTSD? 

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that occurs after an individual has experienced a particularly traumatizing situation or experience, whether firsthand or indirectly. Multiple traumatic events can also contribute to PTSD. Anyone with any background or identity can develop PTSD, and each person may react differently to a similar type of traumatic event. 

It may be helpful to think of PTSD as an extreme psychological defense mechanism. It is connected to the fight-or-flight response and chronic stress, which is why it is listed in the DSM-5 as a trauma and stressor-related disorder. Some individuals may have an increased risk of developing PTSD due to a genetic predisposition or pre-existing mental health concerns that may impair their ability to cope with a traumatic event.

About 60% of men and 50% of women experience trauma during their lifetimes, and 7% to 8% of these individuals are diagnosed with PTSD because of their experiences. For some, symptoms can resolve quickly. For others, symptoms may last months or years. When PTSD is chronic and long-term, caused by repeated traumas over several years, therapists may refer to the condition as complex PTSD or C-PTSD. However, C-PTSD is not listed in the DSM-5 currently. 

What Are The Symptoms Of PTSD? 

Symptoms of PTSD often do not appear immediately after a traumatic incident has taken place. It may surface a few months to a year after the triggering event. For someone to be diagnosed with PTSD, they must showcase symptoms for at least 30 days and exhibit symptoms from the following categories: 

  • Re-Experiencing: Nightmares, flashbacks, and frightening thoughts related to the traumatic event or events 
  • Avoidance: Avoidance of places, people, objects, ideas, or situations that are reminders of the trauma, or avoidance of thoughts and feelings 
  • Arousal And Reaction: Tense muscles, emotional outbursts, disturbed sleep patterns, agitation, hyperarousal, hypervigilance 
  • Mood And Cognitive Symptoms: Loss of interest in previously-enjoyed activities, distressing thoughts, memory gaps, or dissociation 

The symptoms of PTSD can interfere with one's ability to function in daily life. Many people with the condition have "triggers," which are ideas, sounds, scents, situations, stimuli, or other factors that cause memories or reminders of the traumatic event or events experienced. Reminders of the trauma might cause anxiety, panic, dissociation, anger, or crying, among other symptoms. As a result, PTSD can make interacting with others difficult and may impact interpersonal relationships. 

PTSD can lead to personality changes, difficulty in the workplace, decreased ability to function in daily life, substance use, mental health conditions, and trouble maintaining relationships with friends and family, among other consequences. 

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.

Common Causes Of PTSD In Women

People of all genders with PTSD may experience symptoms and traumas in common. However, researchers have found that women are more likely to experience specific traumas than other genders. Men, however, are more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD after military-related traumas, accidents, natural disasters, or work-related trauma. 

This statistic doesn't mean men don't face PTSD from other factors. Many men tend to keep quiet about abuse and not divulge that it has happened to them, which can lead to fewer men reaching out for support. In addition, studies have found that men face unique stigmas in asking for help, which can deter them from participating in studies about these conditions. 

Women are more likely to experience interpersonal traumas leading to PTSD, such as domestic abuse and violence, sexual abuse, sexual assault, or complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

Women are also more likely to have a pre-existing condition, such as depression or an anxiety disorder, which increases their susceptibility to developing PTSD. While about 4% of all men may develop post-traumatic stress disorder at some point in their lives, 10% of women are diagnosed. 

How Sex And Gender Affect Symptoms Of PTSD 

According to extensive research regarding the incidence of PTSD, sex and gender have different effects on how people process trauma and manage symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Individual gender roles, genetic predisposition, and hormonal influences may all impact how individuals present their PTSD symptoms. 

Emotional Impacts 

Men may be more likely to experience traumatic events during their lives, but the types of traumas that women face and how they react to them have led to a higher occurrence of PTSD in women. Gender roles related to masculinity may influence these behaviors, with men showing avoidant, problem-solving, or anger-related responses to trauma. 

In contrast, trauma affects women more intimately on an emotional level, and they are more likely to continue reprocessing their traumas, which can lead to PTSD. Men may attempt to cope with trauma by engaging in substance use and are more prone to angry outbursts, though many women also turn to substances and experience violent behavior.

Types Of Trauma 

The specific types of abuse or trauma that women often live through can increase fearfulness, anxiety, avoidance, and depression. Women with PTSD are often survivors of specific types of abuse, which can highly impair their daily lives. Fear and mistrust of others can be common in these cases. 

Sexual abuse and assault are the leading causes of PTSD in women, although men can also experience these types of abuse. Sexual abuse can have lasting adverse effects, especially when it takes place during childhood while the brain is still developing. In some people, it can cause increased long-term fear and impact one's ability to control their emotions throughout their lifetime.

Women who have experienced abuse or sexual assault may struggle to avoid their trauma triggers, as sex and intimacy are involved in many peoples' lives. These traumas can lead to triggers within relationships or family life, including while pregnant or visiting the doctor. In addition, women often face gender-related violence and harmful comments and behaviors from others that can remind them of their traumas. 

Are PTSD Symptoms Impacting Your Daily Life?

Why Do Some People With The Same Traumas Have PTSD When Others Do Not? 

Each person may react differently to traumatic incidents. However, mental health and social support can impact how people manage these experiences. A person's support system before and after experiencing a traumatic event, their mental state, and their overall health are significant factors in determining whether they will develop PTSD in response to trauma. 

For example, a person not living with a mental health condition can still experience PTSD after being involved in a traumatic incident. However, they may have fewer obstacles to overcome in the coping process and could have a better chance of moving past their trauma faster. 

In addition, a person who experiences abuse from their family and lacks a support system may be more likely to develop PTSD than someone who has a solid support system and feels loved. Due to a lack of social support, people who feel isolated or alone may struggle to cope and move on from the incident or events. In contrast, people with healthy relationships may feel adequately supported through their trauma and can rely on others to comfort them when they're afraid. 

People already experiencing one or more significant mental health conditions may find themselves more susceptible to the effects of trauma, making them more likely to develop PTSD. For example, people who have experienced trauma during childhood or prolonged, chronic, or severe traumas have a significantly higher chance of developing PTSD than those who may have had an isolated traumatic incident during adulthood. 

Those struggling with substance use may also be more likely to have trouble processing trauma, particularly if their substance use is related to underlying mental health factors. The symptoms of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety can be exacerbated when a situation as impactful as trauma occurs. 

Treatment For PTSD And Its Symptoms

The most effective way to manage PTSD is to seek professional support. Many women are more likely to seek help after a traumatic incident and benefit from it compared to men because they may feel more comfortable being open and honest about their thoughts and emotions. 

A mental health professional may use various methods to treat someone with PTSD as they work to understand their trauma and associated symptoms. However, not every method will work for every person. Below are a few common modalities used: 

  • Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) 
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) 
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Cognitive-processing therapy (CPT) 
  • Internal family systems therapy (IFS) 
  • Medications

For some, treatment may be effective and resolve symptoms within a short period. For others, treatment may take months or years. The types of therapy available for PTSD may not benefit everyone, so many therapists take an integrative approach to PTSD, treating symptoms with various modalities. 

Note: Before starting, changing, or stopping any medication, consult a medical provider like a psychiatrist or primary care physician. In most states, counselors, social workers, therapists, and psychologists cannot prescribe or manage medication. 

Alternative Counseling Options 

If you or someone you know has experienced trauma or is trying to cope with PTSD, or if you feel you may have symptoms of PTSD after experiencing a traumatic incident, consider seeking professional support. Managing symptoms of PTSD can make daily living tasks and relationships challenging. Allowing yourself to express your feelings, experiences, and thoughts after trauma may be a beneficial coping mechanism. 

If you cannot make an appointment with a therapist in person due to scheduling issues or convenience, consider online therapy. Research has shown that online therapy can be as beneficial as and more convenient than in-person therapy. For example, an extensive review published in Cureus explored the efficacy of online cognitive-behavioral therapy. The results showed that the treatment could be more effective than in-person therapy for treating post-traumatic stress disorder and co-morbid conditions like anxiety and depression.  

Valuable resources and licensed professionals can be obtained through online platforms like BetterHelp. You can connect with a mental health professional for guidance over the phone, via video chat, or through a live messaging session with your therapist. In addition, when you sign up, you can note whether you're interested in meeting with a trauma-informed therapist or someone with experience treating PTSD. 


Symptoms of PTSD can be challenging to address, and they may have various impacts on your life. Women are more likely to experience PTSD, and abuse and sexual assault are leading causes of this condition in women. If you're a woman or a person of any gender seeking support after a traumatic event, you're not alone. Consider contacting a therapist online or in your area for further compassionate support and guidance.

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