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What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

PTSD develops after a terrifying experience that involved physical harm or the threat of harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to someone else. People who have PTSD often feel stress ed or frightened even when they are no longer in danger.

PTSD was first identified in war veterans, but it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents, such as mugging, rape, torture, being kidnapped or held captive, child abuse, domestic violence, car accidents, train wrecks, plane crashes, bombings, or natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes.

Signs & Symptoms:

PTSD can cause many symptoms. It’s natural to have some o f these symptoms after a dangerous event. Sometimes people have very serious symptoms that go away after a few weeks. This is called acute stress disorder, or ASD. When the symptoms last more than a few weeks and become an ongoing problem, they might be PTSD. Some peop le with PTSD don’t show any symptoms for weeks or months.

These symptoms can be grouped into three categories:

1. Re-experiencing symptoms - Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine. They can start from the person’s ow n thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, sight, sounds, smells, or situations that are reminders o f the event can also trigger re- experiencing. 

  • Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating,
  • Bad dreams,
  • Frightening thoughts.

2. Avoidance symptoms - Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can t rigger 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 usual ly drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.

  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are r eminders of the experience,
  • Feeling emotionally numb,
  • Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry,
  • Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past,
  • Having trouble remembering the dangerous event.

3 . Hyperarousal symptoms - Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic events. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.

  • Being easily startled,
  • Feeling tense or “on edge”
  • Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.

Why do some people get PTSD and other people do not?

It is important to remember that not everyone who lives through a dangerous event gets PTSD. In fact, most will not get the disorder. Stress level s before and after the event, how long a person suffered exposure to harmful events, and support systems a re some of many factors.


The main treatments for people with PTSD are psychother apy (“talk” therapy) and medications such as anti-depressants, or both. Everyone is different, so a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. Other ongoing problems can include panic disorder, depression, substance abuse, and feeling suicidal.

Therapy teaches people helpful ways to react to frighteni ng events that trigger their PTSD symptoms. Based on this general goal, different types of therapy may:

  • Teach about trauma and its effects,
  • Use relaxation and anger control skills,
  • Provide tips for better sleep, diet, and exercise habits,
  • Help people identify and deal with guilt, shame, and other f eelings about the event,
  • Focus on changing how people react to their PTSD symptoms. For example, therapy helps people visit places and people that are reminders o f the trauma.

Therapy teaches people the importance of:

  • Seeking out support from other people, such as friends and family,
  • Finding a support group after a traumatic event,
  • Feeling good about one’s own actions in the face of danger,
  • Having a coping strategy, or a way of getting through the ba d event and learning from it,
  • Being able to act and respond in healthy ways even when feeling fear.