What is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is when memories of a highly upsetting event keep coming back, over and over, to invade your thoughts. This lasts for more than a month and can go on for much longer. These memories can be very scary, realistic, and upsetting.
PTSD starts within 6 months of a highly upsetting event
Life-threatening events can cause intense, long-lasting upset, worry, and nervousness
You may relive the event in your mind, have nightmares, or avoid anything that reminds you of the event
Treatment may include exposure therapy and antidepressant medicine
What causes PTSD?
PTSD can happen when you (or someone you are close to) experiences a highly upsetting event. You may feel haunted by the intense fear, helplessness, or horror you or someone else felt during the event.
Events that can cause PTSD include:
Being in war or combat
Experiencing or witnessing rape and violence
Natural disasters (such as a hurricane)
Serious car crashes
About 1 out of 10 people will have PTSD sometime in their lifetime. Children Acute and Posttraumatic Stress Disorders in Children and Adolescents Acute and posttraumatic stress disorders are reactions to overwhelming traumatic events that involve recurring, intrusive memories of the event as well as emotional numbness and increased tension... read more can also have PTSD.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
PTSD has several types of symptoms:
Avoiding anything that reminds you of the event
Negative thinking or mood
Changes in alertness
Intrusion symptoms include:
Repeated, unwanted memories of the event that keep coming back
Nightmares of the event
Flashbacks (reliving your memory of the event as though it's currently happening)
Strong emotional or physical distress when something reminds you of the event (such as getting in a boat after a near-drowning accident)
Symptoms of negative thinking include:
Not being able to remember important parts of the event (dissociative amnesia Dissociative Amnesia Dissociative amnesia is amnesia (memory loss) caused by trauma or stress, resulting in an inability to recall important personal information. People have gaps in their memory, which may span... read more )
Feeling emotionally numb or disconnected from other people
Depression—feeling tired and sad most of the time, or having a hard time sleeping or paying attention
Less interest in activities you used to like
Feelings of guilt about the event
Feeling only negative emotions (such as fear, anger, or shame) and may be unable to feel happy or satisfied or to love
Symptoms of a change in alertness and reactions include:
Hard time falling asleep or paying attention
Easily scared or constantly watching out for danger
Giving little thought to putting yourself in a dangerous situation
How can doctors tell if I have PTSD?
Doctors look for a connection between your symptoms and any highly upsetting events you or your loved ones have experienced. They ask how it stops you from doing daily activities.
How do doctors treat PTSD?
Exposure therapy, when your therapist has you imagine being in situations that remind you of a highly upsetting event or remember the event—for example, therapists may have you imagine being in the park where you were attacked and talk you through the event you're imagining so that you feel safe and calm (over time, this helps many people feel better)
Antidepressant medicine, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
Medicine that can help you not have nightmares
Long-term PTSD may not go away but often gets better over time even without treatment. However, for some people, PTSD severely affects daily living, and they continue to need treatment.