How Common Is PTSD?

PTSD Rates Across Gender, Age, and Marital Status

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How common is PTSD?. Uwe Umstaetter/Cultura/Getty Images

How common is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Is it more common in men or women? What is the most common age at which people are diagnosed?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is state of extreme anxiety and hypervigilance which begins after some type of traumatic experience. Symptoms of PTSD fall into three basic categories:

  • Re-living a traumatic event - This make take the form of re-experiencing an event in thoughts during the day or nightmares at night.
  • Avoidance - A person with PTSD may avoid people or places which remind them of the traumatic experience or experiences.
  • Hyperarousal - A constant state of being on edge is present along with irritability and symptoms found with a fight or flight reaction.

Who Gets PTSD?

 PTSD often follows a traumatic experience such as rape, military combat, or natural disasters. PTSD in military soldiers has been recognized for decades, though it has been called by other names such as "shell shock."

PTSD may also occur following milder, but ongoing problems and is increasingly being recognized in cancer survivors. those with rheumatoid arthritis, and those living with multiple sclerosis among other conditions.

Not everyone who experiences develops PTSD, and some people are more likely than others to develop this condition. Risk factors for PTSD in addition to a traumatic event may include relationship difficulties, other mental health conditions, chronic pain, and substance abuse.

Prevalence of PTSD

PTSD rates differ depending upon what group of people you examine, and the exact criteria that are used to make the diagnosis. Overall, it's thought that around eight million people in the United States are living with PTSD. This number, however, is a small portion of the total number of people who suffer a traumatic experience.

Most people who experience a traumatic event will not develop PTSD.

How Common is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Overall?

As noted above, it's thought that there are currently around eight million people in the U.S. who are living with PTSD. These numbers vary significantly depending on age, sex, and many other factors. Altogether it's estimated that seven to eight percent of people will experienced PTSD at some point during their lifetime.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) vs Post-Traumatic Stress

There are specific criteria for PTSD, though some people, such as those with medical conditions such as cancer and autoimmune diseases may experience post-traumatic stress without fully meeting the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sex Differences in PTSD

Men and women differ in their lifetime rates of PTSD. Surprisingly, women appear to be twice as likely as men to have a diagnosis of PTSD at some point in their lifetime. Specifically, 10.4 percent of women and 5 percent of men have been found to have PTSD at one time or another in their past.

Why might this be? This finding may partly be due to the fact that the women who have been interviewed are more likely than men to have experienced traumatic events (such as rape or physical abuse) that have a high likelihood of leading to the development of PTSD.

Age Differences in PTSD

For men, there are really no differences in lifetime rates of PTSD across different age groups. For women, however, it appears that the likelihood of developing PTSD drops as they age. It has been found that among younger individuals who experience trauma there is a higher likelihood of developing PTSD.

Marital Status Differences in PTSD

The lifetime incidence of PTSD appears to be more common among both men and women who were previously married than among those who are currently married. "Previously married" is defined as being separated, divorced or widowed. Interestingly, men who were currently married are more likely to have a diagnosis of PTSD at some point in their life than men who have never married.

Bottom Line on the Prevalence of PTSD

It's clear from recent studies that PTSD is very common, and can affect people of all ages, either sex, or any marital status. Seeing how common this disorder is, it is important that the general public be aware of the symptoms of PTSD and to know that help is available for treating the condition. Early identification of the disorder, and consequently early intervention and treatment can spare much suffering.

Take the time to read more information on PTSD. If you or a loved one have symptoms that suggest posttraumatic stress don't wait. Make an appointment to talk to someone today.

Sources:

Atwoli, L., Stein, D., Koenen, K., and K. McLaughlin. Epidemiology of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Prevalence, Correlates and Consequences. Current Opinion in Psychiatry. 2015. 28(4):307-311.

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. National Center for PTSD. How Common is PTSD? Updated 10/03/16. http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/basics/how-common-is-ptsd.asp

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