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Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

by John H. Greist, MD

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by recurrent, intrusive recollections of an overwhelming traumatic 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.

Experiencing or witnessing traumatic events that threaten death or serious injury can affect people long after the experience is over. Intense fear, helplessness, or horror experienced during the traumatic event can haunt them.

Events that can lead to posttraumatic stress disorder include the following:

  • Engaging in combat

  • 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)

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 3 months or longer, it is considered chronic.

Posttraumatic stress disorder affects almost 8% of people sometime during their life, including childhood (see Acute and Posttraumatic Stress Disorders in Children and Adolescents). Many people who undergo or witness traumatic events, such as combat veterans and victims of rape or other violent acts, experience posttraumatic stress disorder.

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