National PTSD Awareness Month: Genes may indicate risks of developing PTSD after traumatic events, finds study

National PTSD Awareness Month: Genes may indicate risks of developing PTSD after traumatic events, finds study

Individuals who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event are often known to suffer from psychological distress after the incident. Such a reaction, which is diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a common mental health problem whose symptoms include reliving the traumatic incident, flashbacks, avoidance of people and places which serve as reminders of the incident, and a constant agitated or hyperactive state.

For many people, symptoms of PTSD recede over time. However, some individuals continue suffering traumatic memories long after the incident has occurred. In such cases, it is important to seek help since PTSD can cause havoc in everyday life. Recognizing the emotional devastation caused by the disorder and its significant health care impact, the U.S. National Center for PTSD designated June as PTSD Awareness Month in 2014. During this period, efforts are intensified to increase public awareness about PTSD and highlight effective treatment options.

There are no conclusive findings which explain why some individuals develop PTSD after a traumatic event whereas others, who may have been exposed to extreme trauma, remain resilient. A new study by researchers from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium has identified genetic variation behind the risk of developing PTSD. Findings of the study, which appeared in the journal Molecular Psychiatry in April 2017, show that the risk of developing PTSD after a traumatic incident may be determined by heredity. It also adds to previous research which shows that other mental health problems such as schizophrenia have overlapping genetic links with PTSD.

Women have higher genetic risk of developing PTSD

Past research shows that in the United States, at least one out of every nine women and one out of every 20 men will be diagnosed with PTSD at some stage during their lifetimes. The National Center for PTSD reveals that the likelihood of women developing PTSD is 10 percent whereas for men it is 4 percent. The new study analyzed over 200 billion pieces of genetic data from more than 20,000 people around the world who enrolled in 11 multi-ethnic studies. The researchers found data patterns which indicated that people with PTSD were more inclined to have the same versions of genes, whereas those without the disorder had variations in genes.

The study also found that women had a higher genetic risk of developing PTSD. In American women with European ethnicity, 29 percent of the risk for developing PTSD is influenced by heredity, which is similar to what is observed in the case of other mental illnesses. However, men showed a significantly lower risk of PTSD due to genetic factors. There was also a strong evidence to suggest that people with greater heritable risk for a number of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, as well as bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder to a smaller extent, have a higher incidence of developing PTSD due to heredity. 

Identifying genetic risk for PTSD may increase efficacy of targeted interventions

People with PTSD suffer negative impacts on their physical health and are at a higher risk of illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia. Such individuals are also at an elevated risk for suicide, hospitalization and substance abuse. Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and senior author of the study, explains that identifying heritable factors can lead to the development of new options for treatment, which better match patients’ requirements.

First author Laramie Duncan, an instructor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, states that among mental health disorders, PTSD may be one of the most preventable ones. She adds that interventions are currently available which inhibit the development of PTSD after a traumatic event; however, their costs are very high. Identifying genetic factors may help in understanding which patients will show the best responses to such interventions. The new findings may also help health care providers in faster identification of PTSD symptoms and offering required treatment such as psychotherapy and medicines to patients who critically need it.

If you or someone you care for is suffering from PTSD or any other mental health problems, contact the California Mental Health Helpline for guidance on mental health treatment in California. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923 or chat online with our specialists to know more about the best mental health rehabilitation centers in California.