Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that develops after a traumatic event. PTSD has also been called "shell shock" or "battle fatigue."

  • Causes

    The exact cause of PTSD is unknown. PTSD is triggered by exposure to a traumatic event. Situations in which a person feels intense fear, helplessness, or horror are considered traumatic. PTSD has been reported in people who experienced:

    • War
    • Rape
    • Physical assault
    • Natural disaster (eg, earthquake, hurricane, fire)
    • Sexual abuse
    • Motor vehicle accidents
    • Animal attack

    Researchers are studying how problems with synapses in the brain may be linked to PTSD.

  • Definition

    Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an
    anxiety disorder
    that develops after a traumatic event. PTSD has also been called "shell shock" or "battle fatigue."

  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history. This may be done by using a structured interview and/or a questionnaire. You will also likely be given a psychological assessment. PTSD will be diagnosed if you have:

    • Symptoms of PTSD, which have lasted for more than one month
    • Both emotional distress and disturbed functioning (eg, problems at school, work, or home) due to the symptoms

    PTSD is categorized according to when symptoms occur and how long they last. There are three types of PTSD:

    • Acute—symptoms last between 1-3 months after the event
    • Chronic—symptoms last more than three months after the event
    • Delayed onset—symptoms do not appear until at least six months after the event

  • Prevention

    The events that trigger PTSD cannot be predicted or prevented. But there are some factors that might prevent PTSD from developing after a traumatic event, such as:

    • Working with a cognitive-behavioral therapist
    • Having a strong network of social support

  • Risk Factors

    Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. Symptoms of PTSD are more likely to occur if the person has:

    • Previous traumatic experiences
    • A history of being physically abused
    • Poor coping skills
    • Lack of
      social support
    • Existing ongoing stress
    • A social environment that produces shame, guilt, stigmatization, or self-hatred
    • Alcohol abuse
    • Family history of mental health problems

  • Symptoms

    People with PTSD experience symptoms of anxiety. These symptoms fall into three categories:

    • Re-experiencing of the event

      • Dreams or nightmares
      • Flashbacks
      • Anxious reactions to reminders of the event
      • Hallucinations

    • Avoidance

      • Avoidance of having close emotional contact with family and friends
      • Avoidance of people or places that are reminders of the event
      • Loss of memory about the event
      • Feelings of detachment, numbness

    • Arousal

      • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
      • Anger and irritability
      • Difficulty concentrating or paying attention
      • Being easily startled
      • Hypervigilance

    People with PTSD may also:

    • Abuse alcohol
      abuse drugs
    • Have physical symptoms, such as pain, rapid breathing or heart rate, and sweating

    • Have
    • Have problems with relationships

  • Treatment

    There are many treatments available to help you. Treatment will not only focus on treating PTSD, but will also focus on any other conditions you have (eg, depression, alcohol abuse, drug abuse).