Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly known as PTSD is brought about by an event that is either experienced or witnessed and is terrifying.  It falls into the mental health category.  Those with PTSD might have nightmares, flashbacks of the event, and severe anxiety when they remember it or are confronted with a situation that is similar to it.  PTSD is beyond difficulty coping with a situation.  The symptoms can occur for years and interfere with daily life.

What are the Symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder?

Symptoms of PTSD may occur as soon as three months after an event or even years after.  They can cause difficulty in normal life events and in work.  Symptoms can vary and change over time and they can be more or less intense.  There are four types of symptomsIntrusive memories: These can include flashbacks, reliving the event, recurring memories, dreams, and distress or physical reactions that happen when you are encountered with a situation that reminds you of the event.

  • Negativity in mood/thinking: This can include feeling negative about yourself or others, lack of positive feelings, lack of interest in things you once enjoyed, hopelessness, difficulty in relationships, and memory problems.
  • Avoiding: This can mean avoiding thinking about the event that caused the PTSD or avoiding places, situations, or even people that remind you of what happened.
  • Emotional reaction: Aggressiveness, irritability, shame, self-destructiveness, trouble sleeping and concentrating, and being easily started can be typical emotional behaviors.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Causes

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological disorder which may develop after an extremely stressful, traumatic, or life-threatening event. Although the disorder is closely associated with military combat, it can affect anyone who undergoes an extremely disturbing event. Generally upsetting events which typically occur throughout one’s life, such as a divorce or the loss of a job, rarely have a connection to the disorder. However, for some people, they can lead to PTSD. In such cases, there are usually other factors contributing to the development of PTSD, such as an anxiety disorder, or another mental health disorder.

The disorder is usually triggered by one of the following events:

  • violent assault
  • prolonged and extreme sexual abuse or neglect
  • military combat or witnessing violent deaths
  • terrorist situations or being held hostage
  • natural disasters
  • the unexpected death of a close family member or friend

Doctors are not sure as to why some people develop PTSD and others who have undergone the same or similar events do not. The belief is that it is connected to one’s genetic predisposition to mental health problems, personality features and temperament, the severity of the trauma which a person has undergone, and brain chemistry.

How is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Treated?

Post-traumatic stress disorder can be treated with medications or with psychotherapy or a combination of both.  Treatment is also designed to address the symptoms of PTSD.

Psychotherapy can include cognitive therapy (or talk therapy) which helps to recognize what is happening; exposure therapy, which safely brings the person into contact with triggers and helps patients to deal with them through increased exposure; and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which uses a combination of guided eye movement to help the person affected by PTSD adapt the ways in which they react.

Medications can include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or prazosin. Prazosin helps decrease nightmares.  Anti-anxiety medication help relieve stress and anxiety. Antidepressants help with sleep problems, concentration, and depression.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Prevention

Apart from limiting one’s exposure to extremely traumatic and life-threatening events, PTSD is not preventable. Minimizing one’s risk factors for developing PTSD, and taking regular care of one’s mental can reduce the likelihood of an individual developing PTSD.

Additionally, if an individual undergoes an extremely disturbing event, early psychological treatment can often aid in preventing PTSD, or limiting the degree of the disorder. Psychological treatment – such as therapy and any necessary medications – can help the individual to emotionally process extremely stressful events and experience fewer reactions in the future to such events. This is important, since PTSD may not immediately and clearly emerge shortly after a traumatic event – it can occur later in the future and emerge in subtle, less apparent ways.

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Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
January 11, 2018