Chromosomes to Social Contexts: Sex and Gender Differences in PTSD

Abstract

Purpose of Review

This review highlights recent research on sex- and gender-related factors in the prevalence, symptom expression, and treatment of PTSD. Further discoveries about the underlying mechanisms of sex and gender effects have the potential to shape innovative directions for research.

Recent Findings

The prevalence of PTSD is substantially higher among women, but women show a modest advantage with respect to treatment response. There is evidence of greater heritability among females. Women are more likely to experience sexual and intimate violence, childhood trauma exposure, and repeated trauma exposures. Specific characteristics of social contexts act as gender-linked risks for PTSD. Among individuals diagnosed with PTSD, men and women are similar in phenotypic expression.

Summary

Though research has yet to fully account for the factors that explain sex- and gender- related effects on PTSD, emerging research suggests these effects occur across multiple levels. Shared risk factors for trauma exposure and PTSD merit further investigation. Both social and biological contexts merit investigation to understand sex-linked differences in heritability.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Aimee Zhang, B.A., for assistance with the preparation of this manuscript. This material is based upon work supported in part by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, National Center for PTSD.

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Correspondence to Rachel Kimerling.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Disaster Psychiatry: Trauma, PTSD, and Related Disorders.

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Kimerling, R., Allen, M.C. & Duncan, L.E. Chromosomes to Social Contexts: Sex and Gender Differences in PTSD. Curr Psychiatry Rep 20, 114 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-018-0981-0

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Keywords

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • PTSD
  • Gender
  • Sex
  • Social context
  • Genetic