Is PTSD Linked to Genetics?

Is PTSD Linked to Genetics?

Decades after they fought in the Vietnam War, a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry medical journal indicates that U.S. combatants in the conflict – all told, some 270,000 Vietnam vets – continue to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, with one-third of those having a current, major depressive disorder. Some of the veterans are so debilitated by these conditions that they may choose to seek veterans’ disability benefits for their conditions by going to law firms like these Kentucky PTSD lawyers for help. The study underscores the pernicious resilience of the condition.

According to the PTSD Alliance, more than 13 million Americans have PTSD and the societal cost is in the billions. An estimated 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women (10.4%) twice as likely as men (5%) to develop PTSD. About 3.6 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 to 54 (5.2 million people) have PTSD during the course of a given year.

While it is perhaps best known as an affliction of wartime soldiers, PTSD can occur after many types of trauma: rape, torture, child abuse, bullying, domestic violence, natural disasters and car, plane, and train wrecks, to name a few. In addition to military combatants, policemen, first-responders, and Emergency Room medical personnel also disproportionately suffer from the condition.

PTSD Symptoms

Symptoms tend to cluster into three areas:

  1. Reliving the event via nightmares or vivid images, along with an extreme reaction such as uncontrollable shaking, chills or heart palpitations.
  2. Avoiding reminders of the event, including becoming emotionally withdrawn and detached from friends, family and everyday activities.
  3. Being hyperaroused, meaning easily startled, experiencing extreme degrees of irritability or anger, or having difficulty sleeping or concentrating.

The Role of Genetics

But why do some suffer PTSD while others, in the exact some environment or suffering the same trauma, do not? Research from UCLA is providing a possible answer: genes.

Lead author Dr. Armen Goenjian, a research professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, explains, “People can develop post-traumatic stress disorder after surviving a life-threatening ordeal like war, rape or a natural disaster … If confirmed, our findings could eventually lead to new ways to screen people at risk for PTSD and target specific medicines for preventing and treating the disorder.”

The idea that your genes play a role in whether you develop PTSD is an increasingly popular focus of recent research. Scientists have discovered genes that help regulate fear reactions in mice. The lack of a fear-regulating brain chemical called gastrin-releasing peptide led to greater fear response among the rodents. In another study, mice without a protein necessary to form “fear memories” were less likely to freeze up and more willing to explore unknown spaces.

Studies of twins show heredity accounts for about 30% of the differences in response to trauma, with identical twins much more likely to both develop PTSD than fraternal twins. Other research has looked into the role of inherited brain differences, mental disorders, or addictive tendencies.

Researchers found that two genes associated with serotonin production lead to a higher risk of the problem. Their article, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, suggests not only a way of identifying people that may be susceptible to the problem, but also points the way to new and more comprehensive treatments.

Serotonin is the target of the popular antidepressants known as SSRIs, or selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, which prolong the effect of serotonin in the brain by slowing its absorption by brain cells. More physicians are prescribing SSRIs to treat psychiatric disease beyond depression, including PTSD and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

PTSD Treatment

In treatment for PTSD, you’ll:

  • Explore your thoughts and feelings about the trauma
  • Work through feelings of guilt, self-blame, and mistrust
  • Learn how to cope with and control intrusive memories
  • Address problems PTSD has caused in your life and relationships

Types of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):

  • Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for PTSD and trauma involves carefully and gradually “exposing” yourself to thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind you of the trauma. Therapy also involves identifying upsetting thoughts about the traumatic event–particularly thoughts that are distorted and irrational—and replacing them with more balanced picture.
  • Family therapy. Since PTSD affects both you and those close to you, family therapy can be especially productive. Family therapy can help your loved ones understand what you’re going through. It can also help everyone in the family communicate better and work through relationship problems caused by PTSD symptoms.
  • Mindfulness –Based Stress Reduction. Veterans treated for PTSD with a fairly new alternative therapy called “mindfulness-based stress reduction” experienced slightly more improvement in symptoms compared to active controls, according to clinicians at Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Healthcare System. MBSR uses a combination of meditation, body awareness and yoga to help people become more mindful of being in the present moment.
  • Medication is sometimes prescribed to people with PTSD to relieve secondary symptoms of depression or anxiety. Antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft are the medications most commonly used for PTSD. While antidepressants may help you feel less sad, worried, or on edge, they do not treat the causes of PTSD.
  • EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) incorporates elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy with eye movements or other forms of rhythmic, left-right stimulation, such as hand taps or sounds. Eye movements and other bilateral forms of stimulation are thought to work by “unfreezing” the brain’s information processing system, which is interrupted in times of extreme stress.


  1. Is post-traumatic stress disorder in your genes?
  2. Posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and perceived needs for psychological care in older persons affected by Hurricane Ike.
  3. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Linked To Genetics.
  4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Easy-to-Read).
  5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Symptoms, Treatment and Self-Help for PTSD.
  6. PTSD United.

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