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Sex differences in PTSD risk: evidence from post-conflict populations challenges the general assumption of increased vulnerability in females

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Sarah Wilker
  • Stephan Kolassa
  • Hawkar Ibrahim
  • Vathsalan Rajan
  • Anett Pfeiffer
  • Claudia Catani
  • Iris Tatjana Kolassa
Article number1930702
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>31/12/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>European journal of psychotraumatology
Issue number1
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date9/09/21
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Background: Next to the dose-dependent effect of trauma load, female sex represents a well-established risk factor for PTSD. Exposure to particularly toxic traumatic event types, different coping styles, and biological risk factors are frequently listed as potential causes for the increased PTSD vulnerability in females. Nevertheless, sex differences have not been consistently observed in all study populations. Objective: To investigate sex differences in PTSD risk in post-conflict populations from different countries while considering trauma load. Method: In civilian post-conflict samples from Northern Uganda (N = 1665), Rwanda (N = 433), Syria (N = 974) and Sri Lanka (N = 165), we investigated sex differences in PTSD risk while taking trauma load into account. PTSD and trauma load were assessed using standardized diagnostic interviews. Potential sex differences in PTSD risk were analysed by logistic regression analyses considering trauma load. Results: Across all samples, males reported more traumatic events than females. Both sexes predominantly reported war-related traumatic events. Without considering trauma load, sex effects in PTSD risk were only detected in the Syrian sample. When taking trauma load into account, evidence for an increased PTSD vulnerability in females was found in the Syrian sample, and, to a much lesser extent, in the Northern Ugandan sample. Conclusion: In contrast to the literature, we did not find evidence for a general increased PTSD vulnerability in females. The dose-response effect of trauma load was a much stronger predictor of PTSD risk than sex across all samples.