Signs & Symptoms of PTSD

Understanding PTSD

Learn About Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

When faced with a traumatic experience, most individuals react with feelings of fear, sadness, and even disconnection from the world around them. However, there are a number of people who develop PTSD after a particularly terrifying event. Those who develop PTSD will continue to experience symptoms of fear and worry long after the event has passed. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health disorder that is triggered by a terrifying event. The symptoms an individual experiences may include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Fear is the body’s natural reaction to danger and when fear is experienced it triggers the body to prepare to either defend itself or flee from the perceived threat. This type of fight or flight response is a healthy emotional and physical reaction that is designed to help protect an individual from harm. However, for those struggling with PTSD, this reaction is damaged or changed, which can leave them feeling extremely frightened or stressed even when they are no longer in danger.

While not everyone who lives through a traumatic event will develop this disorder, PTSD can affect people of all ages and ethnicities.

Post-traumatic stress disorder develops differently in each person who experiences it. Some individuals may notice symptoms in the days and weeks following the event while others do not develop symptoms for weeks, months, or even years after the event. While any situation that causes people to feel helpless or as if they are in danger can lead to PTSD, the most common traumatic events include:

  • Rape/sexual assault
  • Kidnapping
  • Sexual or physical abuse
  • Child neglect
  • War
  • Plane crashes
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Sudden, unexpected death of a loved one
  • Natural disasters
  • Car accidents
  • Physical assault

While PTSD is an extremely debilitating disorder there is help available to get you through this difficult time. With proper medication, support, and therapeutic interventions you will be able to move on with your life.


PTSD Statistics

Each year, about 5.2 million adults struggle with PTSD; only a fraction of those who have experienced a trauma. PTSD is more common in women; approximately 10% of women develop post-traumatic stress disorder at some time in their lives compared to 5% of men. Additionally, there is a prevalence rate of 4% among children ages 13 to 18 years of age. About 7% to 8% of the population of the United States will develop PTSD at some point in their lifetime.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for PTSD

The main cause for the development of PTSD is experiencing, witnessing, or learning about an event that causes an individual to feel intense fear, helplessness, and dread. However, the reasons why some individuals develop this disorder while others do not is unclear. It’s thought that the development of post-traumatic stress disorder is caused by a variety of genetic, environmental, and physical factors working together. Some of the most common causes may include:

Genetic: People who have first-degree relatives with anxiety disorders or other types of mental illness are at a greater risk for developing PTSD after being exposed to a traumatic event. Additionally, inherited mental health risks such as an increased risk for anxiety or depression can play a role as well as inherited aspects of personality.

Physical: Neuroimaging studies conducted on the brains of people who have PTSD, have noted marked differences in the structure of certain areas of the brain. Additionally, the level of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin may be lower in those who have an anxiety disorder. So the way in which an individual’s brain regulates chemicals and hormones in the body, which are released in response to stress, can cause the development of PTSD.

Environmental: People who live in  high-stress situations, such as living in impoverished areas where violence is a part of daily life, may be at an increased risk for developing PTSD. Additionally, all of your life experiences such as the amount and severity of trauma one has gone through since childhood can have an impact on the development of this disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Being abused or neglected as a child
  • Being female
  • Existence of other mental health problems
  • Lacking good support system

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

The symptoms of PTSD may develop suddenly or can begin gradually and get worse over time. Symptoms present themselves in a variety of different ways depending upon the existence of co-occurring disorders, individual makeup, and symptom severity. The symptoms of PTSD are generally grouped into three different categories and can include:

Re-Experiencing Symptoms:

  • Flashbacks – reliving the traumatic event
  • Intense physical reactions to flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Severe distress when reminded of the trauma
  • Triggered by words, objects, or situations that remind the person of the event
  • Disruptions in everyday routine

Avoidance Symptoms:

  • General memory problems
  • Hopelessness about future
  • Emotional numbing
  • Feeling detached from others
  • Avoiding certain places, events, or objects that remind a person of the trauma
  • Challenges recalling important parts of the traumatic event
  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about event
  • Avoiding activities once enjoyed
  • Trouble concentrating

Hyperarousal Symptoms:

  • Bering easily startled or frightened
  • Engaging in self-destructive behavior
  • Constantly tense or on-edge
  • Irritability or anger
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Hearing or seeing things that aren’t there


Effects of PTSD

If not properly treated the long-term effects that result from PTSD can cause significant impairment in the lives of those who are struggling with this disorder. Additionally, the presence of PTSD can place an individual at a higher risk for developing a number of other mental health disorders and certain medical illnesses. Fortunately, proper treatment, support, and lifestyle changes can help individuals move past their PTSD and go on to lead happy, healthy lives. Long-term problems may include:

  • Social isolation and withdrawal
  • Loss of occupational or scholastic functioning
  • Decreased ability to have successful interpersonal relationships
  • Separation or divorce
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Worsening physical health problems
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Eating disorders
  • Chronic pain
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

PTSD and Co-Occurring Disorders

It is uncommon for post-traumatic stress disorder to occur on its own. It often presents with other mental health disorders. In fact 80% of those diagnosed with PTSD struggling with another disorder. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders may include:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Depressive disorders
  • Other anxiety disorders
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