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CNS Drugs. 2005;19(5):411-27.

Post-traumatic stress disorder in women: epidemiological and treatment issues.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, MRC Unit on Anxiety and Stress Disorders, University of Stellenbosch, Tygerberg, Cape Town, South Africa.


Although women are exposed to proportionately fewer traumatic events in their lifetime than men, they have a higher lifetime risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition to gender-differential rates of rape and sexual assault, including greater exposure to intimate partner violence, the preponderance of PTSD in women may be attributable to factors other than trauma type, such as sensitisation of stress hormone systems in response to early adverse experiences, inherent neuroendocrine factors, subjective interpretation of the event, and peritraumatic dissociation. Women with PTSD arguably experience a greater symptom burden, longer course of illness and have worse quality-of-life outcomes than men. An expanding knowledge base of the psychobiological alterations in PTSD is providing stimulus for the development of improved pharmacological and psychosocial treatment options. Recent randomised controlled studies conducted in large samples of women with chronic PTSD indicate that: (i) SSRIs have efficacy on all three symptom clusters of PTSD and should be used as first-line pharmacotherapy; and (ii) cognitive behavioural strategies (e.g. prolonged exposure treatment and cognitive processing) are effective in sexually and non-sexually assaulted women. Studies also suggest that female gender may be associated with better response rates to pharmacotherapy. Emerging empirical data on the potential usefulness of antiadrenergic agents and preventive cognitive behavioural treatments in managing acute trauma reactions and stemming the emergence of PTSD are paving the way for further work in this area. However, additional innovative treatments are needed for traumatised women and for female children/adolescents presenting with acute stress reactions and PTSD.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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