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A-B-C, Women and PTSD, It’s Easy Like 1-2-3: Medical Trauma, Women and PTSD

What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress disorder, otherwise known as PTSD, is a mental disorder following a terrible or life-threatening event. Reactions to a traumatic event during or after the time of the event is completely normal. This is the body’s way of protecting itself against a perceived threat. Normally, the person will recover from the event and go back to normal weeks later. However, if a person’s reaction to the event is over one month, then they have PTSD. Almost 8% of the general population have PTSD. While 15-30% of trauma survivors will develop PTSD. Veterans have an even higher chance of developing PTSD.

Risk Factors For PTSD include: pre-existing mental health issues, familial history of mental disorders, experiencing multiple stressors and lack of post-trauma support.

To be diagnosed with PTSD the person must have at least one re-experiencing symptom, one avoidance symptom, one avoidance symptom, two reactive symptoms and two mood symptoms. Examples of each type of symptom include:


  • Bad Dreams/ Nightmares about the event

  • Frightening Thoughts

  • Re-living the trauma, including the symptoms repeatedly- otherwise known as flashbacks


  • Keeping away from places, people, objects or events that remind the victim of the trauma

  • Stopping oneself from having thoughts and/or feelings that are connected to the event


  • Being easily startled or having the feeling of being “on edge”

  • Having difficulty sleeping

  • Angry outburst for no apparent reason


  • Negative thoughts about oneself

  • Placing blame or guilt about the event on someone who does not deserve it- Including oneself

  • Loss of interest in things previously enjoyed

  • Forgetting elements of the event

Medical Trauma

Medical trauma is a different type of trauma where the life-threatening event occurs in a medical setting, such as a hospital or doctor’s office, to a person or a loved one. Although this type of trauma is not well known, it can also cause PTSD.

  • 77% of women who have miscarriages or stillbirths develop PTSD.

  • 20-60% of people that are in the ICU develop PTSD.

  • 30% of people diagnosed with HIV develop PTSD.

Length of time in the hospital, previous anxiety or depression, type of procedure, medications, lack of sleep, support system and prognosis can affect likelihood of developing PTSD.

Women and PTSD

  • Women tend to show symptoms of avoidance and reactivity, while men are more likely to express anger and use illicit substances. (1)

  • Half of women will experience a traumatic event at some point in their life (2)

  • Many of the women with PTSD developed it after being victim of sexual assault or child abuse

  • 1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted at one point in their life

  • 1 in 10 women will develop PTSD at some point in their life

  • Women develop PTSD at 2 or 3 times the rate that men do

PTSD and Childbirth

PTSD after birth is related to preterm delivery, preeclampsia, poor neonatal health, stunted infant growth, and developmental issues. In a South African study, 60% of the women experienced depression after birth, 30% met the criteria to be diagnosed with PTSD and 25% were diagnosed with both disorders. Also, in this study they found that half of the participants had suffered physical and emotional abuse and/or neglect. The researchers also stated that poor coping techniques is a strong risk factor for PTSD, where 38% of the women had this disorder.

PTSD during pregnancy is shown to have a negative effect on the pregnancy, including ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, low birth weight and can ultimately affect the fetus’s stress response. Women from racial minorities, lower income households and younger mothers have a heightened risk of developing PTSD. A study found that 25% of the women’s PTSD symptoms increase during pregnancy. Also, they found that pregnancy stress/trauma, labor anxiety and lifetime of PTSD affected PTSD in pregnant women.

PTSD and Cancer

In a recent study, women with gynecologic cancer reported having elevated PTSD symptoms. Specifically, 34% of women with advanced cancer, 16% of women in the early stages and 15% of the women with benign cases met the criteria for PTSD within the 7-week period following surgery. A similar study looking at breast cancer found that 32% of women with breast cancer met PTSD criteria 3 months after surgery. However, a study testing the prevalence of PTSD in ovarian cancer found that 10% of women with ovarian cancer develop PTSD, which is similar to the average of women in general that develop PTSD.

Recommended types of treatment for PTSD include :

  • Trauma Focused Therapy: Where the therapy focuses on the traumatic event in order to cope with the event.

  • Prolonged Exposure: Where the person faces negative emotions by reexperiencing triggering objects to cope with PTSD symptoms.

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy: when the patient reframes negative thoughts and assesses their mind frame to control their emotions and PTSD symptoms.

  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: where the patient calls the traumatic memory forward while watching an object move back and forth.

How Can Family Members and Friends Help?

PTSD affects more than just the person undergoing symptoms but can hurt relationships. Here are tips to help a loved one get through PTSD:

  • Encourage a love one to get treatment

  • Counter any stigmas the person has about mental health

  • Create a safe environment

  • Gain more knowledge about the woman’s case or PTSD itself

For coping suggestions for PTSD, please visit:

For more information about PTSD itself, please visit:

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