Epigenetic changes are thought to play an important role in PTSD

Epigenetic changes are thought to play an important role in PTSD, both whether or not it develops—as epigenetic stress-related responses affect resilience—and as a factor in treatment and recovery. Epigenetic processes could be therapeutic targets for new drug development, as well as markers for treatment response. Clinicians and researchers have long speculated that psychotherapy might change epigenetics.

This can be passed on from one generation to the next, for example changing stress responses in the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, and food-related reactions in the children and grandchildren of famine survivors. Research shows increasingly important roles for epigenetics in psychiatric and various general medical conditions.

PTSD has symptoms in four main areas, with specific required criteria for diagnosis including how long the symptoms last, when they begin, how many symptoms are present, and so on. Symptoms include:

  1. Intrusive symptoms, such as nightmares, recurring unwanted thoughts or memories, emotional distress to reminders, and flashbacks;
  2. Avoidance, of trauma-related thoughts, feelings or reminders;
  3. Negative changes in thinking and mood, such as being unable to remember parts of the trauma, negative thoughts or beliefs about oneself and the world, excessive blame, loss of interest, feelings of isolation, and difficulty having positive feelings;
  4. Changes in arousal and activity level, including irritability or anger, destructive or risky behaviors, hypervigilance, difficulty with sleep and concentration, and having a strong reaction to small triggers (“heightened startle reaction”).