Sex differences in post-traumatic stress disorder risk: autonomic control and inflammation

Ida T Fonkoue, Vasiliki Michopoulos, Jeanie Park

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


AIM: Over 7 million U.S. adults and about 20% of the military population have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a debilitating condition that is independently linked to a significantly greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD). Women have twice the probability of developing PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event compared to men. Existing literatures have reported higher inflammation and autonomic dysfunction including impaired baroreflex sensitivity, increased sympathetic reactivity and decreased parasympathetic activity in PTSD. However, most of these findings stem from studies conducted predominantly in males.

METHODS: We attempt in this narrative review to summarize the mixed literature available on sex differences in autonomic dysfunction and inflammation in PTSD, at rest and in response to stress in PTSD.

RESULTS: This review reveals that there is a paucity of research exploring autonomic function in females with PTSD. Recent studies have included female participants without probing for sex differences. A small number of studies have been conducted exclusively in women. Available data suggest that sympathetic nervous system output tends to be heightened, while parasympathetic activity and arterial baroreflex sensitivity appear more blunted in females with PTSD. Although few studies have investigated sex differences in inflammation in PTSD, data within females suggest chronic increases in inflammation with PTSD. This autonomic dysregulation and inflammation have also been described in males with PTSD.

CONCLUSION: In sum, given the inherent biological differences in CVD clinical presentation and characteristics between men and women, human and animal studies aiming at elucidating sex differences in the pathophysiology of PTSD are needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)409-421
Number of pages13
JournalClinical autonomic research : official journal of the Clinical Autonomic Research Society
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2020

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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