Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or rape or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence, or serious injury. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an intense physical and emotional response to thoughts and reminders of the event that last for many weeks or months after the traumatic event.
Signs and Symptoms:
About half of those with PTSD recover within three months without treatment, some others may experience PTSD symptoms early or years afterwards. Sometimes symptoms do not go away on their own or they last for more than three months. This may happen because of the severity of the event, direct exposure to the traumatic event, seriousness of the threat to life, the number of times an event happened, a history of past trauma, and psychological problems before the event. Symptoms must last more than a month and be severe enough to interfere with relationships or work to be considered 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.
A clinician who has experience helping people with mental illnesses, such as a psychiatrist, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, or psychologist, can diagnose PTSD.
To be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must have all the following for at least 1 month:
- At least one re-experiencing symptom
- At least one avoidance symptom
- At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms
- At least two cognition and mood symptoms
Re-experiencing symptoms include:
- Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, nightmares, and extreme emotional and physical reactions to reminders of the event including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
- Frightening thoughts
Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine. The symptoms can start from the person’s own thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing symptoms.
Avoidance symptoms include:
- Staying away from activities, places, thoughts, or feelings related to the trauma or feeling detached or estranged from others.
- Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event
Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.
Arousal and reactivity symptoms include:
- Being overly alert or easily startled
- Feeling tense or “on edge”
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Having angry outbursts or irritability
- A lack of concentrations
These are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic events. These symptoms can make the person feel stressed and angry. They may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.
Cognition and mood symptoms include:
- Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event
- Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
- Distorted feelings like guilt or blame
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
Cognition and mood symptoms can begin or worsen after the traumatic event but are not due to injury or substance use. These symptoms can make the person feel alienated or detached from friends or family members.
It is natural to have some of these symptoms for a few weeks after a dangerous event. When the symptoms last more than a month, seriously affect one’s ability to function, and are not due to substance use, medical illness, or anything except the event itself, they might be PTSD. Some people with PTSD do not show any symptoms for weeks or months. PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or one or more of the other anxiety disorders.
Treatment of PTSD is with antidepressants, to control worries, and other medications as well to improve sleep and lessen nightmares. Psychotherapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapies, and Exposure Therapies can help improve symptoms.