Like many other mental health disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in women often has a much different set of symptoms and treatment approaches than it does in men.

Recognizing and addressing these challenges is critical to overcoming the debilitating effects of PTSD and getting back to living life without the detrimental effects of mental health disorders.

Higher Prevalence of PTSD in Women

The first essential element in recovering from PTSD is understanding the high prevalence of PTSD in women. Research has shown that the lifetime prevalence of PTSD in women is between 10-12%, compared to just 5-6% in men.

This doubled rate of PTSD in women is thought to be a result of several causes. While most people will be exposed to some type of traumatic event in their lifetime, women are much more likely to develop PTSD as a result of a traumatic experience.

It’s not necessarily that women are exposed to more trauma but that they more frequently develop long-term symptoms and challenges as a result.

One of the reasons for this phenomenon is the type of trauma women experience and when they experience it. For example, women are more likely to experience trauma in their early childhood, which has a much greater effect on mental health than trauma experienced as an adult.

Additionally, women are more often exposed to high-impact traumatic events. This could include living through traumatic experiences such as:

  • Sexual assault or rape
  • Physical abuse
  • Repeated childhood trauma

These types of traumatic experiences are far more likely to lead to a diagnosis of PTSD and can lead to chronic fear or stress among women who experience them, particularly if they happen at a young age. Women can live with the effects of these traumatic experiences for years if left untreated.

Symptoms of PTSD

The symptoms of PTSD are grouped into four distinct categories — avoidance symptoms, re-experiencing symptoms, arousal and reactivity symptoms, and cognition and mood symptoms. In order to receive a diagnosis of PTSD, people typically need to experience symptoms in each category for at least a month.

In addition to these clusters of symptoms, the presence of a traumatic event is required to receive a diagnosis of PTSD. Professionals will also look to exclude the possibility of these symptoms being better captured by a different diagnosis or due to the use of medication or substance use.

While the symptoms listed below are used as a guideline, receiving a formal diagnosis requires seeing a qualified psychologist or mental health professional. If you are experiencing these symptoms, it might be time to set up an appointment to get help.

Avoidance Symptoms

Avoidance symptoms refer to when people avoid certain situations, people, places, or thoughts that remind them of traumatic events. These symptoms can quickly lead to severe impairment in daily life, as they can prevent people from going where they please or living how they did before developing PTSD.

There are two primary avoidance symptoms mental health professionals look for to assess the presence of PTSD:

  • Active avoidance of thoughts, memories, or feelings associated with a traumatic event
  • Avoiding people, places, activities, or situations that can arouse distressing memories associated with a traumatic event

In a formal diagnosis procedure, clinicians look for the presence of at least one of these symptoms lasting for more than a month.

Re-Experiencing Symptoms

Re-experiencing symptoms, sometimes called intrusive symptoms, refer to people’s involuntary recall or reactions to triggering events. These symptoms are often outside of your direct control and can seem to appear randomly throughout your day. Some common re-experiencing symptoms include:

  • Repeated and involuntary memories of traumatic events
  • Frequent dreams or nightmares about or related to the traumatic event
  • Intense psychological distress when exposed to cues that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Physical reactions to cues that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Flashbacks of the traumatic event

Not everybody with PTSD experiences all of these symptoms. In diagnosis, clinicians look for just one or more symptoms occurring over the period of one month.

Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms

Arousal and reactivity symptoms typically refer to changes in people’s reactions after developing PTSD. These symptoms can show up in several different ways, including:

  • An exaggerated startle response
  • Trouble focusing
  • Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or having restless sleep
  • An increase in reckless behavior
  • Sudden angry outbursts or irritability
  • A sense of hypervigilance or always being alert for potential dangers

These symptoms are markedly different from the level of arousal and reactivity people had before developing PTSD. Scientists believe these symptoms are partly due to alterations in the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the fight-or-flight response.

In people with PTSD, the sympathetic nervous system is overactive compared to people without PTSD. Yet, when people develop PTSD, they can feel as though they are constantly on guard, looking out for danger, or having intense reactions to situations.

Clinicians look for the presence of at least two of these symptoms in determining a diagnosis — again, lasting for at least a month.

Cognition and Mood Symptoms

The fourth set of PTSD symptoms are alterations in mood and cognition. These changes begin or worsen after a traumatic event takes place and can take many forms, including:

  • Having trouble remembering important aspects of a traumatic event
  • Having a persistent negative mood
  • Reduced interest in hobbies or activities
  • Having exaggerated negative beliefs about yourself
  • Having distorted beliefs about the traumatic event itself, which can lead to feelings of shame or guilt
  • Feeling detached from others
  • Difficulty experiencing positive emotions

These changes in mood and cognition often seem like depression and can lead to direct impacts on your ability to work, maintain your responsibilities, or pursue meaningful activities. Mental health professionals look for the presence of at least two of these symptoms over the course of at least a month.

How PTSD Affects Women Differently

The symptoms of PTSD outlined above are the defined criteria outlined in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, since these criteria are used to diagnose all cases of PTSD, they don’t focus on specific gender and sexual differences in PTSD symptoms.

PTSD in women does match these symptoms, but women are more likely to experience a certain subset of these symptoms than men. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that, in comparison to men, women are more likely to experience symptoms such as:

  • A more exaggerated startle response
  • Increased emotional numbness
  • Feelings of depression or anxiety during PTSD
  • Higher rates of avoidance symptoms

In addition, studies have shown that women are more likely to live with their symptoms for longer before receiving diagnosis and treatment. On average, men receive a diagnosis and treatment just one year after developing symptoms of PTSD, while women average four years before getting help.

PTSD in women is also more likely to result in self-medication through drug or alcohol misuse. In general, the co-occurrence of substance use disorders and PTSD is astonishingly high, but this is even more likely for women experiencing the symptoms of PTSD.

Finally, PTSD in women is more likely to result in physical health problems. These issues could include physical symptoms such as headaches, back pain, muscle tension, or increased blood pressure and heart rate.

Effective PTSD Treatment

As debilitating as PTSD in women can be, a number of effective treatment options can help people resolve their symptoms and get back to living life as they see fit.

Treating PTSD isn’t always easy or fast, but decades of scientific evidence support the fact that PTSD treatment can help people manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

There are a number of different types of trauma therapy and treatments for PTSD, but some approaches are considered to be the most common and effective.

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy has long been the foundation of mental health treatment, and a number of different therapeutic techniques have been developed to help people overcome PTSD and trauma-related disorders.

One of the most effective forms of talk therapy for treating PTSD is known as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

EMDR uses a variety of specialized techniques to help people process trauma, learn new methods of coping with their behavioral and emotional symptoms, and help people achieve lasting recovery.

This therapy has emerged as one of the leading approaches to treating PTSD in women because of its effectiveness, rapid results, and integration of somatic techniques that can help people identify and move past the physical and emotional symptoms of trauma.

Ketamine-Assisted Therapy

Ketamine-assisted therapy is a novel approach to treating trauma and related disorders. It often resembles many other types of talk therapy but uses the psychedelic medication ketamine to aid people in the process.

Ketamine is known as a dissociative psychedelic — meaning it can cause people to feel disconnected from their sense of self and their experiences. This effect can be incredibly useful in treating PTSD in women, as it can help people detach from their internal barriers to engaging in therapy and drill down to the root cause of PTSD.

Additionally, ketamine-assisted therapy produces rapid results, with most people feeling significantly better after just a single session. However, repeated sessions can further solidify your progress, help keep your symptoms at bay, and inspire a lasting and fruitful journey in trauma recovery,

Stellate Ganglion Blocks

The stellate ganglion is a bundle of nerves located in the lower neck. Its primary function is to serve as a neural highway for the sympathetic nervous system, sending signals between the body and brain to trigger the “fight-or-flight” response.

Since the sympathetic nervous system is so frequently overactive in women with PTSD, finding ways to soothe the sympathetic nervous system can result in a rapid reduction in symptoms.

A stellate ganglion block can accomplish this task by administering a small dose of a local anesthetic directly into this bundle of nerves.

After receiving a stellate ganglion block, many of the automatic, hyperreactive responses people with PTSD often experience are greatly diminished, which, in turn, can relieve a number of mental health symptoms.

A stellate ganglion block isn’t permanent but can provide significant relief with just a brief outpatient procedure. This can provide people with the necessary breathing room to engage in other effective PTSD treatments and facilitate the healing process of overcoming PTSD.

Start PTSD Treatment at Plus by APN

At Plus by APN, we have a comprehensive suite of mental health services specifically designed to help women overcome their challenges with PTSD. Our team focuses on providing the best in both traditional and innovative treatment methods to help you recover and has the experience and training to help you achieve your mental health goals. Call 424.644.6486 or complete our online contact form to start your healing journey today.


  • Olff, M. (2017). Sex and gender differences in post-traumatic stress disorder: an update. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 8(sup4).
  • “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Office on Women’s Health, Accessed 15 June 2024.
  • “Women Who Experience Trauma Are Twice as Likely as Men to Develop PTSD. Here’s Why.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, Accessed 15 June 2024.