PTSD - Risk factors

The risk factors for experiencing post traumatic stressRelating to injury or concern. disorder may be divided into two groups:

The characteristics of the event

An increased likelihood of developing PTSD depends largely on the characteristics of the trauma experienced, for example:[1-3]

  • Greater severity (such as a greater degree of injury after a road traffic accident)
  • Prolonged and repeated trauma
  • Events involving intentional harm
  • Events involving harm to children
  • Close proximity.

In men, the types of trauma that most frequently lead to PTSD are military combat and witnessing someone being badly injured; in women, the events most commonly associated with PTSD are rape and sexual molestation.[1]

The characteristics of the individual

Factors relating to the individual that increase the risk for PTSD include:[1-6]

  • A pre-existing depression or anxiety disorder; low self-esteem
  • A family history of anxiety and neuroticism
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • A history of childhood behavioural problems
  • A history of childhood abuse increases the risk for PTSD in adults
  • Genetic factors (although family studies can be difficult to interpret)
  • A significant panic-like response to the traumatic event and pronounced distress
  • Intrusive memories of the event immediately after injury
  • Social isolation or low levels of emotional support
  • Female gender
  • Ethnicity (black and Hispanic people are at greater risk than Caucasians).
References: 
  1. Grinage BD. Diagnosis and management of post-traumatic stressRelating to injury or concern. disorder. Am Fam Physician 2003; 68: 2401-8,2409.
  2. Mason S and Rowlands A. Post-traumatic stressRelating to injury or concern. disorder. Accid Emerg Med 1997; 14: 387-91.
  3. Semple D and Smyth R. Oxford Handbook of Psychiatry 2009; 2nd Edition.
  4. Zohar J, Sonnino R, Juven-Wetzler A et al. Can post-traumatic stressRelating to injury or concern. disorder be prevented? CNS Spectr 2009; 14: 1(Suppl 1) 44-51.
  5. Nugent NR, Amstadter AB and Koenen KC. Genetics of post-traumatic stressRelating to injury or concern. disorder: informing clinical conceptualizations and promoting future research. Am J Med Genet C Semin Med Genet 2008; 148C(2): 127-32.
  6. Seedat S, Niehaus DJ and Stein DJ. The role of genes and family in trauma exposure and posttraumatic stressRelating to injury or concern. disorder. Molecular Psychiatry 2001; 6: 360-2.