Brain Facts

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Specific Risk Factors for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Traumatic events are the main risk factor for PTSD, but some people can go through such events and not experience PTSD. Studies estimate that 6 - 30% or more of trauma survivors develop PTSD, with children and young people being among those at the high end of the range. Women have the twice the risk of PTSD as men.

Exposure to war and combat greatly increases the risk for PTSD. According to the Institute of Medicine, between 13 ? 20% of U.S. military service members who have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan may have PTSD.

Researchers are trying to determine factors that might increase vulnerability to catastrophic events and put people at risk for develop PTSD. Some studies report the following may be risk factors:

- Pre-existing emotional disorder. People are at higher risk for PTSD if they have a history of an emotional disorder, particularly depression, before a traumatic event.

- Drug or alcohol abuse

- A family history of anxiety

- A history of physical or sexual abuse, neglect, or abuse within the family

- An early separation from parents

- Lack of social support and poverty

- Sleep disorders. Insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness even within a month after a traumatic event are important predictors for the development of PTSD. One specific sleep disorder -- sleep apnea -- may intensify symptoms of PTSD, including sleeplessness and nightmares. Sleep apnea occurs when tissues in the upper throat (or airway) collapse at intervals during sleep, thereby blocking the passage of air. Sleep apnea has also been associated with a risk for panic disorder.

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