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Is PTSD Genetic?

You may have heard people discussing events that caused their PTSD, but how common is the disorder? PTSD, which stands for post-traumatic stress disorder, is not rare. PTSD can happen to anyone, and it should never be viewed as a weakness. Various factors may increase the chance that someone will develop PTSD, but is it genetic? If you were directly injured or exposed to trauma, you are more likely to develop the condition. Most factors, however, are not under the person’s control.

Experiencing trauma, unfortunately, is common in our society. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, about 6 of every 10 men (60 percent) and 5 of every 10 women (50 percent) will experience at least one significant traumatic event in their lives. According to the report, women are more likely to experience child sexual abuse and sexual assault, while men are more likely to experience a physical attack, disaster, combat, or witness a death or injury.

Severe PTSD affects a significant portion of the population. It’s common to experience the disorder to some extent in your life. The same statistics show that about 7 of 8 out of every 100 people will deal with PTSD at some point in their lives. About 8 million adults will deal with PTSD in a given year, and 10 out of every 100 women will develop it throughout their lives compared to 4 out of every 10 men. 

It’s possible that symptoms can arise years after a traumatic event, but it’s also possible that individuals who experience trauma throughout their lives will never develop PTSD. Does that make others more prone through genetic makeup? Below, we will take an in-depth look at what post-traumatic stress disorder is and who it affects. Some research, however, does point to genetics and someone’s predisposition to developing the condition. 

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

The Mayo Clinic describes PTSD as a mental health condition that is triggered by terrifying events. It goes on to say that it often occurs after someone has experienced or witnessed something tragic. Some of the most common symptoms include severe anxiety and nightmares, flashbacks, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Most people who go through traumatic events have temporary difficulties coping and adjusting, but over time and with the proper self-care, they will heal over time. Unfortunately, for some, symptoms will get worse and last for months or even years. It can lead to interference with someone’s daily functioning. If it affects your everyday life, it could be PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD

The symptoms of the disorder often start within a month of a traumatic event, but years could go by before symptoms appear. The symptoms can cause severe problems in work or social situations and relationships. They may also affect one’s daily routine.

PTSD symptoms are grouped into four categories: changes in physical and emotional reactions, adverse changes in thinking and mood, intrusive memories, and avoidance. The symptoms will vary from one person to another and fluctuate over time. These include:

  • Feeling hopeless about the future
  • Avoiding activities, places, or people that remind you of the event
  • Continuing to relive the tragic event
  • Upsetting nightmares about the event
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulties maintaining relationships
  • Feeling detached from friends or family
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Easily startled or frightened
  • Always on guard for danger
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Self-destructive behaviors like drinking too much 

Is PTSD Genetic?

Extensive research has been put in place to determine why some people are more susceptible or predisposed to developing PTSD than others. A report from Harvard University shows that 30 percent of PTSD cases were explained by genetics

The evidence gathered showed identical twins with a smaller hippocampus were more likely to develop PTSD following these kinds of tragic events. The initial studies show a correlation between genetics and developing the condition. 

The report goes on to say that symptoms overlap and other similarities with panic and generalized anxiety disorders. Paying attention to these other disorders is important for genetic studies. There is also a focus on genetics that play a role in creating “fear memories” and understanding how these memories are created and finding interventions for treatment. 

The focus on PTSD has grown exponentially over the years, and it’s partly because the number of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who are experiencing PTSD. One thing that is clear is that not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD. More research is necessary to determine its root cause, but these initial studies released from Harvard shed some light that genetics do play a role. There are other influences, such as mental illness, childhood trauma, and poor social support. Changes in the brain may also cause PTSD, but more research is needed.

Sources

Learn About Mental Health – Mental Health – CDC. (2018, January 26). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (2018, July 6). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967

VA.gov: Veterans Affairs. (2018, September 13). Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_adults.asp

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://pnl.bwh.harvard.edu/education/what-is/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/

Izquierdo, I., Furini, C. R. G., & Myskiw, J. C. (2016, April). Fear Memory. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26983799

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