Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can arise suddenly, gradually, or come and go over time. Sometimes symptoms appear seemingly out of the blue. At other times, they are triggered by something that reminds you of the original traumatic event, such as a noise, an image, certain words, or a smell. While everyone experiences PTSD differently, there are three main types of symptoms, as listed below.
Following a traumatic event, almost everyone experiences at least some of the symptoms of PTSD. It’s very common to have bad dreams, feel fearful or numb, and find it difficult to stop thinking about what happened. But for most people, these symptoms are short-lived. They may last for several days or even weeks, but they gradually lift.
If you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, the symptoms don’t decrease. You don’t feel a little better each day. In fact, you may start to feel worse. But PTSD doesn’t always develop in the hours or days following a traumatic event, although this is most common. For some people, the symptoms of PTSD take weeks, months, or even years to develop.
Re-Experiencing the Traumatic Event
• Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event
• Flashbacks (acting or feeling like the event is happening again)
• Nightmares (either of the event or of other frightening things)
• Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma
• Intense distress often occurs when people are exposed to an event or situation that reminds them of the original trauma
• Intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect to the traumatic event
• Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (e.g. pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating)
PTSD Symptoms of Avoidance and Emotional Numbing
• Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma
• Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
• Loss of interest in activities and life in general
• Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
• Sense of a limited future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career)
PTSD Symptoms of Increased Arousal
• Difficulty falling or staying asleep
• Irritability or outbursts of anger
• Difficulty concentrating
• Hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”)
• Feeling jumpy and easily startled
Other Common Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
• Anger and irritability
• Guilt, shame, or self-blame
• Substance abuse
• Depression and hopelessness
• Suicidal thoughts and feelings
• Feeling alienated and alone
• Feelings of mistrust and betrayal
• Headaches, stomach problems, chest pain
Posttraumatic stress disorder is characterized by recurrent, intrusive recollections of an overwhelming traumatic event.
Events that threaten death or serious injury can cause intense, long-lasting distress if left unattended.
Affected people may relive the event, have nightmares, and avoid anything that triggers a replay of the event.
Traditional Treatment may include psychotherapy (supportive and exposure therapy) and antidepressants. Restructuring Therapy does not use these techniques but relies on reformatting the mind itself toward to more functional integration.
Experiencing or witnessing traumatic events can affect people long after the experience is over. Intense fear, helplessness, or horror experienced during the traumatic event can haunt a person unless removed from consciousness.
Sometimes symptoms do not begin until many months or even years after the traumatic event took place. If posttraumatic stress disorder has been present for three months or longer, it is considered chronic.
Posttraumatic stress disorder affects at least 8% of people sometime during their life, including childhood. Many people who undergo or witness traumatic events, such as combat veterans and victims of rape or other violent acts, experience posttraumatic stress disorder.
People persistently avoid things that are reminders of the trauma. They may also attempt to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations about the traumatic event and avoid activities, situations, or people who serve as reminders.
Avoidance may also include memory loss (amnesia) for a particular aspect of the traumatic event. People have a numbing or deadening of emotional responsiveness and symptoms of increased arousal (such as difficulty falling asleep, being vigilant for warning signs of risk, or being easily startled).
Symptoms of depression are common, and people show less interest in previously enjoyed activities. Feelings of guilt are also common. For example, they may feel guilty that they survived when other people did not.
National Center for PTSD
Mental Health Disorders: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder