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Why Are Certain People At A Higher Risk Of Developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that gets triggered by a traumatic event in a person’s life. Symptoms of PTSD may include nightmares, flashbacks, and severe anxiety, along with uncontrollable thoughts about that event. (1, 2, 3) Most people who experience some type of traumatic event in their life may have some temporary difficulty in adjusting and coping, but usually, with time and self-care, they get better and get over the trauma. However, in people with PTSD, the symptoms may get worse, last for long periods of time, and even interfere with their day-to-day functioning. The event that triggers Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may involve a perceived or real threat of injury or death. Some types of traumatic events that may trigger Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) include:(4, 5, 6, 7)

  • An accident
  • A natural disaster like a tornado or earthquake
  • Military combat
  • Physical or sexual abuse

People with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) usually feel a heightened sense of danger, and their natural fight or flight response gets altered due to trauma, causing them to feel fearful or stressed even when they are in a safe environment.

In the past, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) used to be known as ‘battle fatigue’ or ‘shell shock’ since it tends to commonly affect war veterans. According to estimates by the National Center for PTSD, it is believed that nearly 15 percent of Vietnam War veterans and 12 percent of Gulf War veterans all have PTSD. The center also estimated that seven to eight percent of the population experience PTSD at some point in their lives.(8)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a treatable condition, and many people with this mental health condition are able to manage their symptoms successfully after they receive the appropriate treatment.(9, 10)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can happen to anyone at any age, but why is it that it only affects certain people and not others? It is believed that PTSD develops as a response to neuronal and chemical changes in the brain after being exposed to a traumatic or threatening event. However, it is essential to know that having Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD does not mean that you are weak or flawed in any way.

Causes of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD is caused by being exposed to a traumatic event in life. This can include experiencing, witnessing, or even learning about a severely traumatic event. Some of the events that may cause PTSD may include:

  • Abuse or neglect
  • Military combat
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Severe injury
  • Auto accidents
  • Terrorism
  • Traumatic birth, leading to postpartum PTSD
  • Witnessing violence and death
  • Diagnosis of life-threatening illness

Research has shown that trauma may bring about actual physical changes to the brain, leading to PTSD. For example, a study carried out in 2018 found that individuals with PTSD tend to have a smaller hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that is involved in emotion and memory. (11) However, it remains unknown whether they had whether the participants had a smaller hippocampal volume, to begin with before the trauma took place or if the trauma caused a reduction in the hippocampal volume. Additionally, many people are also better at managing stress than others.

According to the National Health Service (NHS), one in three people who experience severe trauma in life go on to develop PTSD.(12) However, there are several factors that make it more likely that someone will go on to develop PTSD after a traumatic event, and some will not. Let us look at some of these risk factors.

Why Are Certain People At A Higher Risk Of Developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Some of the risk factors for developing Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) include:

Apart from the above, stress hormones in the body and the structure of the brain also have a role to play in determining who develops Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

As mentioned above as well, it has been found that in people with PTSD, the hippocampus appears to be smaller.(13) However, it is still unclear if the hippocampus was smaller before the trauma itself or if the size decreased due to the trauma. Researchers believe that a malfunctioning of the hippocampus can also stop the brain from processing the trauma properly, thus leading to Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Similarly, people with PTSD have been found to have abnormally high levels of stress hormones, which are typically released during traumatic events in life. These high levels of stress hormones could be the cause behind many of the Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms as well, including hyperarousal and numbness.

There are also several resilience factors that play a role in who develops PTSD. These are factors that make it less likely that a person will develop Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a traumatic event in their life. Some of these resilience factors include:(14)

  • Having a strong support system of friends and loved ones.
  • Feeling good about the actions that you took when you experienced the traumatic event.
  • Using positive coping strategies to address any negative emotions not just with the traumatic event but in general before the event as well.

This does not mean, though, that people who develop PTSD are not strong or resilient. It is important to remember that it is not your fault that you have PTSD. This is a natural and understandable reaction to trauma.

How is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Treated?

There are several different treatments for PTSD, including talk therapy, lifestyle changes, and medication. The first step to treating Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is to consult a trained therapist who will diagnose you with the condition.

Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, is a therapeutic treatment that involves talking to a professional about your experiences and symptoms. There are several types of psychotherapy available today for the treatment of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Cognitive behavioral therapy is a technique that involves discussing the traumatic event and the symptoms you are experiencing. This technique helps you implement a better thought and behavioral pattern in your day-to-day life.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy: This is an interactive therapy that involves moving your eyes from side to side while remembering the traumatic event in order to process the event while keeping the strong emotions attached to these memories aside.
  • Exposure therapy: This type of psychotherapy involves talking about the trauma and working through it inside a safe environment so that you can process the experience safely.

The exact type of therapy you undergo will depend on your individual needs, your doctor’s recommendation, and your therapist’s experience.

Medications for PTSD

There are some prescription medications, including Zoloft (sertraline) and Paxil (paroxetine), that can help treat the symptoms of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Lifestyle Changes for PTSD

There are numerous lifestyle changes along with self-care techniques that you should implement to help alleviate and better manage your symptoms. Some of these coping strategies may include:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Learning more about PTSD to better understand the condition and your symptoms
  • Meditation
  • Attending a support group
  • Journaling
  • Reducing the negative coping mechanisms such as abusing alcohol and drugs
  • Having a strong support system of loved ones


If you have Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or you suspect you may have PTSD, it is best to seek help from a medical professional. If left untreated, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can go on to affect your daily life and your relationships. It can make it challenging to work, study, sleep, or eat and may even lead to suicidal thoughts.

It is very much possible to find effective treatments that alleviate or even stop several of the symptoms of PTSD. As every person is different, their trauma is different, and they respond to treatment in a different way, everyone needs a unique treatment plan for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What works for you might not work for another. Your mental health provider will help you find the best coping strategies and therapies to help manage the symptoms of PTSD and improve your quality of life.


  1. National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (UK, 2005. Post-traumatic stress disorder: The management of PTSD in adults and children in primary and secondary care.
  2. Blake, D.D., Weathers, F.W., Nagy, L.M., Kaloupek, D.G., Gusman, F.D., Charney, D.S. and Keane, T.M., 1995. The development of a clinician-administered PTSD scale. Journal of traumatic stress, 8(1), pp.75-90.
  3. Shin, L.M., Rauch, S.L. and Pitman, R.K., 2006. Amygdala, medial prefrontal cortex, and hippocampal function in PTSD. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1071(1), pp.67-79.
  4. Bremner, J.D., Southwick, S.M., Darnell, A. and Charney, D.S., 1996. Chronic PTSD in Vietnam combat veterans: course of illness and substance abuse. The American journal of psychiatry.
  5. Cameron, R.P. and Gusman, D., 2003. The primary care PTSD screen (PC-PTSD): development and operating characteristics. Primary care psychiatry, 9(1), pp.9-14.
  6. Falsetti, S.A., Resnick, H.S., Resick, P.A. and Kilpatrick, D.G., 1993. The modified PTSD symptom scale: a brief self-report measure of posttraumatic stress disorder. The Behavior Therapist.
  7. Brady, K.T., 1997. Posttraumatic stress disorder and comorbidity: recognizing the many faces of PTSD. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 58(9), pp.12-15.
  8. Ptsd.va.gov. 2022. VA.gov | Veterans Affairs. [online] Available at: <https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_veterans.asp> [Accessed 5 May 2022].
  9. Gradus, J.L., 2007. Epidemiology of PTSD. National Center for PTSD (United States Department of Veterans Affairs).
  10. Driessen, M., Schulte, S., Luedecke, C., Schaefer, I., Sutmann, F., Ohlmeier, M., Kemper, U., Koesters, G., Chodzinski, C., Schneider, U. and Broese, T., 2008. Trauma and PTSD in patients with alcohol, drug, or dual dependence: A multi‐center study. Alcoholism: clinical and experimental research, 32(3), pp.481-488.
  11. Logue, M.W., van Rooij, S.J., Dennis, E.L., Davis, S.L., Hayes, J.P., Stevens, J.S., Densmore, M., Haswell, C.C., Ipser, J., Koch, S.B. and Korgaonkar, M., 2018. Smaller hippocampal volume in posttraumatic stress disorder: a multisite ENIGMA-PGC study: subcortical volumetry results from posttraumatic stress disorder consortia. Biological psychiatry, 83(3), pp.244-253.
  12. nhs.uk. 2022. Overview – Post-traumatic stress disorder. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/overview/> [Accessed 5 May 2022].
  13. Rubin, M., Shvil, E., Papini, S., Chhetry, B.T., Helpman, L., Markowitz, J.C., Mann, J.J. and Neria, Y., 2016. Greater hippocampal volume is associated with PTSD treatment response. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 252, pp.36-39.
  14. Agaibi, C.E. and Wilson, J.P., 2005. Trauma, PTSD, and resilience: A review of the literature. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 6(3), pp.195-216.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:May 25, 2022

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