HEALTHY LIVING
12/22/2012 11:04 am ET

Constant Worrying, Neuroticism Could Raise Risk Of PTSD: Study

Too much worrying could be a risk factor for post-traumatic stress disorder, a new study suggests.

Researchers from Michigan State University found that people who show higher levels of neuroticism -- a type of personality where a person may experience higher levels of anxiety or may overreact more to things than other people -- had a greater likelihood of developing PTSD later on. Symptoms of PTSD usually occur soon after a traumatic event (within three months) and are marked by disturbing dreams or flashbacks, feelings of avoidance and numbness, as well as increased anxiety, guilt/shame and anger, according to the Mayo Clinic.

"There have been studies of neuroticism and PTSD, but they've all been retrospective," study researcher Naomi Breslau, an epidemiology professor at the university, said in a statement. "We're never sure of the order of things in a retrospective study. This study sets it in a clear time order."

The findings, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, included 1,000 people from southeast Michigan who were followed for a decade. The researchers had them answer a questionnaire to see their level of neuroticism at the start of the study, and then a followup assessment three, five and 10 years later.

By the end of the study period, half of the study participants reported experiencing some sort of trauma, and 5 percent of the participants had developed PTSD.

Researchers found an association between those who scored higher on the neuroticism assessments and those who would go on to develop PTSD. The findings are important because they could help doctors identify who may be at a greater risk for PTSD, and could thereby provide extra support to these kinds of people, the researchers said.

"So the question is, 'What's the difference between those who develop PTSD and the majority who don't,'" Breslau said in the statement. "This paper says people who are habitually anxious are more vulnerable. It's an important risk factor."

According to the Mayo Clinic, other risk factors for PTSD may include having experienced childhood abuse, having depression (or a family history of it), having experienced trauma in the past, and not having a strong support system. Women are also more likely to experience PTSD than men, the Mayo Clinic reported.

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