Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by recurrent, intrusive recollections of an overwhelming traumatic event. Recollections recur for more than 1 month and begin within 6 months of the event.
Events that threaten death or serious injury can cause intense, long-lasting distress.
Affected people may relive the event, have nightmares, and avoid anything that reminds them of the event.
Treatment may include psychotherapy (supportive and exposure therapy) and antidepressants.
Traumatic events that threaten death or serious injury can affect people long after the experience is over. People may experience the event directly (for example, when people are seriously injured) or indirectly (for example, when people witness a murder or learn that close family members or friends have experienced a traumatic event). Intense fear, helplessness, or horror experienced during the traumatic event can haunt them.
Events that can lead to posttraumatic stress disorder include the following:
Experiencing or witnessing sexual or physical assault
Experiencing a disaster, either natural (for example, a hurricane) or man-made (for example, a severe automobile accident)
Posttraumatic stress disorder affects almost 9% of people sometime during their life, including childhood (see Acute and Posttraumatic Stress Disorders in Children and Adolescents). About 4% have it during any 12-month period. Many people who undergo or witness traumatic events, such as combat veterans and victims of rape or other violent acts, develop posttraumatic stress disorder.
Posttraumatic stress disorder lasts for more than 1 month. It may be a continuation of acute stress disorder or develop separately up to 6 months after the event.
Chronic posttraumatic stress disorder may not disappear but often becomes less intense over time even without treatment. Nevertheless, some people remain severely handicapped by the disorder.