Females may experience the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) differently than males. They are also two to three times more likely to develop PTSD.

PTSD is a mental health condition that can occur after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event or series of events.

The symptoms of PTSD can vary from person to person.

This article discusses PTSD symptoms in females. It also explains the causes of PTSD, its prevalence in females, and how doctors treat it.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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While the symptoms of PTSD do not typically depend on a person’s sex or gender, females may experience certain symptoms differently than males.

Females may be more likely to do the following:

  • avoid people, places, or objects that remind them of the event
  • be more easily startled
  • have feelings of depression or anxiety
  • have difficulty feeling emotions or feel numb

Females may also be more likely than males to experience symptoms for longer before seeking diagnosis and treatment. On average, females wait an average of 4 years, compared with 1 year for males, before seeking help for their symptoms.

Doctors place the symptoms of PTSD into four categories: Re-experiencing, arousal and reactivity, avoidance, and cognition and mood.

Re-experiencingArousal and reactivityAvoidanceCognition and mood
flashbacksfeeling on guard, tense, or on edgestaying away from people, places, or objects that may be reminders of the eventnegative thoughts about oneself or the world
recurring memories or dreamsbeing easily startledavoiding feelings or thoughts that relate to the eventfeelings of blame toward oneself or others
physical signs of stresshaving difficulty sleeping difficulty remembering key pieces of the event
distressing thoughtshaving difficulty concentratingpersistent feelings of guilt, shame, or fear over the event
engaging in behaviors that may be harmful or dangeroussocial isolation
feeling irritable or having angry outburstsloss of interest in activities
difficulty feeling positive emotions

The cause of PTSD can be different for everybody. Females may be more likely to experience high-impact trauma, such as sexual assault or abuse. They are also more likely to experience this trauma at a younger age. Research shows that trauma earlier in life can have more impact on an individual.

PTSD’s causes include:

  • experiencing sexual assault or abuse
  • experiencing bullying, harassment, or abuse, including sexism and racism
  • experiencing violence, such as a violent attack, terrorism, or military combat
  • experiencing or witnessing a car accident
  • being in a job, such as the emergency services or armed forces, where an individual consistently sees or hears distressing things
  • surviving a natural disaster
  • experiencing traumatic childbirth
  • losing someone close
  • receiving a life threatening diagnosis

Around 6 in every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their life. The prevalence of PTSD in females is around 10–12 in 100 people.

Females are two to three times more likely to develop PTSD than males.

Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. There are certain factors that may play a role in the development of the condition. These include aspects of the event itself, as well as genetic factors of the individual.

To receive a diagnosis of PTSD, a person must experience symptoms for at least 1 month. They must also experience the following, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-5-TR):

  • at least one avoidance symptom
  • at least one re-experiencing symptom
  • at least two cognition and mood symptoms
  • at least two arousal and reactivity symptoms

If a person is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, they should speak with a healthcare or mental health professional.

Not everyone who develops PTSD will require treatment. For some, the symptoms begin to subside and clear over time on their own.

Treatment for PTSD typically involves:

Research shows that females are typically more likely than males to reach out for social support. They are also more likely than males to find benefits in psychotherapy, such as CBT.

The following are some questions people frequently ask about PTSD.

How does PTSD affect a woman?

Females are more likely than males to experience symptoms for longer before seeking treatment. This is an average of 4 years for females and 1 year for males. They may also experience symptoms such as avoidance, startle response, and anxiety and depression differently than males with PTSD.

Can you tell if someone has PTSD?

Someone with PTSD may startle easily and appear as though they are always on edge and unable to relax. They may socially isolate themselves to avoid talking about their thoughts, feelings, or the event. They may also show a lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy. Someone with PTSD may show signs of irritability or have angry outbursts.

PTSD symptoms do not typically depend on sex or gender. However, females may experience some symptoms differently than males.

Females are also more likely to develop PTSD. They are more likely to experience certain types of trauma and at an earlier age than males.

Treatment for PTSD often involves certain types of psychotherapy and, possibly, medication to help manage symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and sleep issues.

If a person is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, they should speak with a healthcare or mental health professional.