Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) is a condition related to PTSD. Although little research relates to it, one study suggests that trauma and PTSD may shorten the life span.

CPTSD is a condition related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, people with CPTSD may have additional symptoms.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognized CPTSD as a separate condition in its 2018 International Classification of Diseases, version 11 (ICD-11). Before then, experts did not recognize the symptoms of CPTSD as a condition in its own right.

This article explores how CPTSD affects life expectancy while also looking at the effects on daily life and possible symptoms. Finally, it discusses treatment options for CPTSD.

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Due to the fairly recent definition of CPTSD by the ICD-11 working group, more research is needed on the condition.

However, one study has evaluated the impact of trauma and PTSD on life span and neural integrity. Researchers used a novel life span predictor, GrimAge, which predicts chronological age in the context of age-related lifestyle factors.

The scientists found that lifetime trauma burden, current PTSD, and lifetime PTSD were associated with GrimAge acceleration, indicative of a shorter predicted life span. They did not see this association when looking at childhood trauma exposure. They also demonstrated cell death in brain regions related to PTSD.

The researchers explained that traumatic experiences and PTSD might advance cellular aging mainly through oxidative stress and inflammation. Cellular aging results in changes to DNA processes, increasing the risk of a shorter life span.

However, the researchers note the study’s limitations, commenting that more research is needed to support the validity of this evidence.

Read more about CPTSD.

Research suggests that CPTSD symptoms organize into two clusters.

The first cluster is classic PTSD symptoms of reexperiencing, avoidance, and a sense of threat.

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) explains that classic PTSD symptoms may involve physical sensations, such as pain, sweating, or feeling sick. People may have constant negative thoughts and be unable to come to terms with their experiences. They may withdraw or isolate as they attempt to deal with their feelings through emotional numbing. Some people may distract themselves with work or hobbies to push stressful memories out of their minds.

The second cluster is disturbances in self-organization (DSO). This is a collective term for disturbances in the domains of affect, identity, and relational capacities.

The NHS explains that the symptoms of CPTSD are similar to symptoms of PTSD but may also include having the following:

  • feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and shame
  • difficulty controlling emotions
  • difficulty connecting with other people
  • issues with relationships

Learn how CPTSD can affect relationships.

As with PTSD, psychotherapy is a common treatment option for CPTSD. Psychotherapies for CPTSD include:

Experts continue to conduct research as to whether these trauma-based therapies are the most effective treatments for CPTSD.

The following are some questions people frequently ask about CPTSD.

Does CPTSD get worse with age?

There is no research that suggests CPTSD worsens with age. However, if it goes untreated, CPTSD symptoms may worsen over time.

Is CPTSD a serious condition?

CPTSD can seriously affect someone, impacting their daily life. In addition, people may experience other mental health issues alongside CPTSD, such as depression, self-harm, or suicidal feelings.

CPTSD shares symptoms with other mental health conditions, including borderline personality disorder (BPD). This can lead to misdiagnosis and ineffective treatment options.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

Was this helpful?

Post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma may affect someone’s life span, brain cells, and DNA, according to one study. However, research specifically relating to complex PTSD and a person’s life span has not yet been conducted. In addition, more studies are needed to confirm the effects of PTSD on how long a person lives.

Treatment for CPTSD includes psychotherapies, such as cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure therapy. Individuals should speak with a mental health professional to find the most effective treatment for their circumstances.