Post-traumatic stress disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. It can occur after you've seen or experienced a traumatic event that involved the threat of injury or death.
Veterans returning home from a war often have PTSD.
The cause of PTSD is unknown. Psychological, genetic, physical, and social factors are involved. PTSD changes the body's response to stress. It affects the stress hormones and chemicals that carry information between the nerves (neurotransmitters).
It is not known why traumatic events cause PTSD in some people but not others. Having a history of trauma may increase your risk for getting PTSD after a recent traumatic event.
Symptoms of PTSD fall into three main categories:
1. "Reliving" the event, which disturbs day-to-day activity
Flashback episodes, where the event seems to be happening again and again
Repeated upsetting memories of the event
Repeated nightmares of the event
Strong, uncomfortable reactions to situations that remind you of the event
Emotional "numbing," or feeling as though you don't care about anything
Being unable to remember important aspects of the trauma
Having a lack of interest in normal activities
Showing less of your moods
Avoiding places, people, or thoughts that remind you of the event
Feeling like you have no future
Having an exaggerated response to things that startle you
Feeling more aware (hypervigilance)
Feeling irritable or having outbursts of anger
Having trouble falling or staying asleep
You might feel guilt about the event (including "survivor guilt"). You might also have some of the following symptoms, which are typical of anxiety, stress, and tension:
Agitation or excitability
Feeling your heart beat in your chest
There are no tests that can be done to diagnose PTSD. The diagnosis is made based on certain symptoms.
Your doctor may ask for how long you have had symptoms. This will help your doctor know if you have PTSD or a similar condition called Acute Stress Disorder (ASD).
In PTSD, symptoms are present for at least 30 days.
In ASD, symptoms will be present for a shorter period of time.
Your doctor may also do mental health exams, physical exams, and blood tests to rule out other illnesses that are similar to PTSD.
Treatment can help prevent PTSD from developing after a trauma. A good social support system may also help protect against PTSD.
If PTSD does occur, a form of treatment called "desensitization" may be used.
This treatment helps reduce symptoms by encouraging you to remember the traumatic event and express your feelings about it.
Over time, memories of the event should become less frightening.
Support groups, where people who have had similar experiences share their feelings, may also be helpful.
People with PTSD may also have problems with:
Alcohol or other substance abuse
Related medical conditions
In most cases, these problems should be treated before trying desensitization therapy.
Medicines that act on the nervous system can help reduce anxiety and other symptoms of PTSD. Antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can be effective in treating PTSD. Other anti-anxiety and sleep medicines may also be helpful.