Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

What is PTSD?

You may have posttraumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) if you’ve been through a traumatic event and are having trouble dealing
with it. Such events may include a car crash, rape, domestic violence, military combat,
or violent crime. While it is normal to have some anxiety after such an event, it often
goes away in time. But with PTSD, the anxiety is more intense and keeps coming back. And
the trauma is relived through nightmares, intrusive memories, and flashbacks. These can
be vivid memories that seem real. The symptoms of PTSD can cause problems with
relationships and make it hard to cope with daily life. But it can be treated. With
help, you can feel better.

What causes PTSD?

PTSD may be triggered by something that:

  • Happened to you
  • Happened to someone close to you
  • You saw

Examples include:

  • Serious accidents, such as car or train wrecks
  • Natural disasters, such as floods or earthquakes
  • Manmade tragedies, such as bombings, a plane crash, shooting
  • Violent personal attacks, such as a mugging, rape, torture, being held captive, or kidnapping
  • Military combat
  • Abuse in childhood

Who is at risk for PTSD?

There are many risk factors for
having PTSD. Recognizing and addressing them can help prevent PTSD, when possible. These
risk factors include:

  • Lack of family or social support resources
  • Repeated exposure to traumatic circumstances
  • Personal history of trauma or of an acute stress or anxiety disorder
  • Family history of mental health disorders
  • Personality traits of vulnerability and a lack of resilience
  • History of childhood trauma
  • Personality disorder or traits including borderline personality disorder, paranoia, dependency, or antisocial tendencies

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Symptoms of PTSD last more than a month. They may include: 

  • Unwanted or intense memories of a trauma
  • Nightmares
  • Vivid memories or flashbacks that make you feel like you’re reliving the event
  • Feeling worried, fearful, anxious, or suspicious
  • Strong reactions when you’re reminded of the trauma (or sometimes for no obvious reason at all)
  • Intrusive thoughts about combat, death, or killing
  • Feeling disconnected or isolated, as if you’re not yourself
  • Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
  • Feeling agitated, tense, on edge, or easily startled
  • Bursts of anger or irritation
  • Problems focusing
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep

The symptoms of PTSD may look like other mental health conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is PTSD diagnosed?

Not every person who goes through a
trauma get PTSD, or has symptoms at all. PTSD is diagnosed if your symptoms last more
than 1 month. Symptoms often begin within 3 months of the trauma. But they can also
start months or years later.

How long this illness lasts varies.
Some people recover within 6 months. Others have symptoms that last much longer.