Everything You Need To Know About Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

A man leans against a large office windowPost-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is generally thought of as something that military veterans or victims of war-time events are affected by.

But actually, PTSD is a serious condition that can develop after any ordeal, particularly sexual or physical assault, the death of a loved one, an accident, or a natural disaster.

About 3.6 percent of adult Americans (or 5.2 million people) suffer from PTSD during the course of a year, and an estimated 7.8 million Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.

What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?

PTSD is a serious condition that can develop after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or terrifying event in which serious physical harm occurred or was threatened. It can cause intense fear, helplessness, or horror.

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What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Most people who experience a traumatic event will have various and extreme reactions that typically go away with time. However, in cases of PTSD, these feelings continue and even increase, preventing the person from living a normal life.

Symptoms of PTSD most often begin within three months of the event, but can sometimes begin years after the event.

Symptoms of PTSD often are grouped into three main categories, including:

Reliving: People with PTSD repeatedly relive the ordeal through thoughts and memories of the trauma. These may include flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares. They also may feel great distress when certain things remind them of the trauma.

Avoiding: The person may avoid people, places, thoughts, or situations that may remind him or her of the trauma. This can lead to feelings of detachment and isolation, as well as a loss of interest in activities that the person once enjoyed.

Increased/Decreased Emotion: This includes showing too much or too little affection; difficulty falling or staying asleep; irritability; outbursts of anger; difficulty concentrating; and being easily startled. The person may also suffer physical symptoms, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle tension, nausea, and diarrhea.

Young children with PTSD may suffer from delayed development in areas such as toilet training, motor skills, and language.

The Faces of PTSD

PTSD can be experienced by anyone, at any age.

PTSD was first brought to the attention of the medical community by war veterans. However, PTSD can occur in anyone who has experienced a traumatic event, including child abuse and rape. In fact, victims of child abuse, sexual abuse or assault, and physical assault, are at greater risk for developing PTSD.

Additionally, women are actually more likely to develop PTSD than men, possibly because women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, abuse, and rape.

How Is PTSD Diagnosed?

If symptoms of PTSD are present, the doctor will perform a medical history, a physical exam, and may use various tests to rule out physical illness as the cause of the symptoms.

If no physical illness is found, the PTSD sufferer may be referred to a mental health professionals who is specially trained to diagnose and treat PTSD.

PTSD Treatment Options
Treatment for PTSD may involve psychotherapy (a type of counseling), medication, or both.


Doctors use antidepressant medications to treat PTSD — and to control the feelings of anxiety and its associated symptoms — including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Paxil, Celexa, Luvox, Prozac, and Zoloft; and tricyclic antidepressants such as Elavil and Doxepin. Tranquilizers such as Ativan and Klonopin; mood stabilizers such as Depakote and Lamictal; and neuroleptics such as Seroquel and Abilify are sometimes used.


Psychotherapy for PTSD involves helping the person learn skills to manage symptoms and develop ways of coping. Therapy also aims to teach the person and his or her family about the disorder, and help the person work through the fears associated with the traumatic event. A variety of psychotherapy approaches are used to treat people with PTSD.

What Is the Outlook for People With PTSD?

Recovery from PTSD is a gradual and ongoing process. Symptoms of PTSD seldom disappear completely, but treatment can help sufferers learn to cope more effectively. Treatment can lead to fewer and less intense symptoms, as well as a greater ability to cope by managing feelings related to the trauma and live a more fulfilling life.

For more information visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at www.SAMHSA.gov.