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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects about 7.7 million American adults, but it can occur at any age, including childhood. 

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder that develops after what is, or is perceived to be, a terrifying event.  You can have anxiety symptoms right after the trauma or they can develop days, months, or even years later.

Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers. It is occasionally called post-traumatic stress reaction to emphasize that it is a routine result of traumatic experience rather than a manifestation of a pre-existing psychological weakness on the part of the patient. 

Family members of victims also can develop the disorder. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur in people of any age, including children and adolescents.

If you are like many other people who suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder, you may have flashbacks where you repeatedly relive the trauma.  Typically, these flashbacks can be so real that you lose touch with reality and, at the time, believe that the traumatic incident is happening again.

PTSD was first brought to public attention in relation to war veterans, but it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents.  Typically, a person can develop Post-traumatic stress disorder after you have been or had:

Childhood physical, emotional or sexual abuse or witnessed such abuse inflicted on another child or adult
Experienced or witnessed physical or psychological torture
Witnessed the sudden death of a loved one
Experienced or witnessed a mugging, rape or sexually abuse
Being hit or harmed by someone in your family
Experienced or witnessed life-threatening medical complications
Serious exploitation, such as through prostitution or enslavement
A victim of a violent crime or been kidnapped or help captive
In an auto, train, or airplane crash
In a hurricane, tornado, flood, earthquake,fire, or other disaster type situation
In a war or bombing situation
Experienced a vicious attack by a dog, shark, or other animal
Had a post Cult/Sect/New Religious Movement experience/abuse
Having a close brush with death as a result of nearly drowning, electric shock, falling from great height, or some similar traumatic situation
Been in any event where you thought you might be killed, or
After you have seen any of the above type of events.

Post-traumatic stress disorder should not be confused with the mourning, grief and adjustments that normally take place after a traumatic event.

Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

You can have symptoms right after the trauma or they can develop months, or even years, later. For most people, post-traumatic stress disorder starts within about three months of the event. For some people, signs of PTSD don't show up until years later. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder can happen to anyone at any age. Even children can have it.

Most people with Post-traumatic stress disorder repeatedly relive the trauma in their thoughts during the day and in nightmares when they sleep. These are called flashbacks. Flashbacks may consist of images, sounds, smells, or feelings, and are often triggered by ordinary occurrences, such as a door slamming or a car backfiring on the street. A person having a flashback may lose touch with reality and believe that the traumatic incident is happening all over again. Symptoms of Post-traumatic stress disorder may include:

Physiological reactions include an increase in blood pressure, a rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, breathing problems or asthma, muscle tension, nausea and diarrhea.
Gastrointestinal distress
Immune system problems
Markedly diminished interest or participation in activities that once were an important source of satisfaction.
Difficulty concentrating
Eating disorders or loss of appetite
Chronic pain with no medical basis (frequently gynecological problems in women)
Stress-related conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia
Dizziness, chest pain, or discomfort in other parts of the body
Having flashbacks, nightmares, bad memories or hallucinations
Trying not to think about the trauma or staying away from people who remind you of it
Not being able to recall parts of the event
Feeling emotionally numb or detached from others
Having trouble sleeping
Being irritable, angry or jumpy
Exaggerated startle response to noise
Have trouble feeling affectionate
Distress at anniversaries of the trauma
Feelings of hopelessness about the future, about family life, or career
Mental health problems such as depression, dissociation (losing conscious awareness of the “here and now”) or another anxiety disorder (like panic disorder) can develop.
Self-destructive behavior, including alcohol abuse or drug abuse, suicidal impulses, high-risk sexual behaviors that may result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases (STD), including HIV, and other high-risk behavior that may be life-endangering, such as fast or reckless driving, may develop.

For most people, the emotional effects of traumatic events will tend to subside after several months;  if they last longer, then a mental health disorder may be diagnosed. 

It is also possible to suffer at the same time from other mental health disorders including clinical depression, general anxiety disorder and a variety of addictions.  Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may have a delayed onset of months, years or even decades and may be triggered by an external factor or factors.

As mentioned earlier, not every traumatized person develops full-blown or even minor PTSD. Symptoms, as outlined in the diagnostic criteria for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV (DSM-IV), usually begin within 3 months of the incident but occasionally emerge years afterward. They must last more than a month to be considered Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The course of the illness varies. Some people recover within 6 months, while others have symptoms that last much longer. In some people, the condition becomes chronic.

Frequency of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder


An estimated 70 percent of adults in the United States have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives and it is believed that of those exposed to traumatic conditions between 5% and 80% will develop PTSD depending on the severity of the trauma and personal vulnerability.  According to recent epidemiological studies, between 10% and 14% of the population at any given time has Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Additionally, about one third of the population will have experienced some form of PTSD in their lifetime. 

Women are about twice as likely as men to develop Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  An estimated one out of 10 women will get Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at some time in their lives. This may be due to the fact that women tend to experience interpersonal violence (such as domestic violence, rape or abuse) more often than men. There is some evidence that susceptibility to the disorder may run in families.

Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is commonly treated using one or more psychotherapy approaches including reality therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, stress management and psychotropic drug therapy. The objectives of treatment are to reduce your emotional distress and the associated disturbances to your sleep and daily functioning, and to help you better cope with the event that triggered the disorder.

Cognitive-behavior therapy: This therapeutic approach helps teach the Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) sufferer effective ways of managing thoughts or situations that remind you of the trauma you've experienced. You and your psychotherapist can draw up a list of situations or memories that cause anxiety. You gradually expose yourself to more anxiety-provoking thoughts and situations while learning that your body calms itself through a process called habituation. Repeated exposure to sources of anxiety diminishes your fear so that you no longer need to avoid certain situations and thoughts. The goal of this therapy is to promote a sense of recovery and a feeling of mastery over your anxiety.

Stress management training: This approach also involves learning to manage your anxiety through relaxation. You work with the help of a therapist to develop skills to decrease your preoccupation with negative thoughts and the sense of being overwhelmed by the traumatic event.

Medications:  Several types of medication, particularly the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and other antidepressants, can help relieve the symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are antidepressants that act on the chemical serotonin, the neurotransmitter in your brain that helps brain cells (neurons) send and receive messages. SSRIs include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), citalopram (Celexa), fluvoxamine and venlafaxine (Effexor XR). These medications can help control anxiety as well as depression. Tranquilizers such as clonazepam (Klonopin) and lorazepam (Ativan) may decrease feelings of anxiety.

Additional Information

For more information about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems, please click on the linked websites listed below.

 National Center for PTSD
 NIMH on post-traumatic stress disorder
 AACAP: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
 National Institute of Mental Health: Reliving PTSD

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