Services & Conditions
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a trauma and stressor-related disorder anxiety disorder that develops after a traumatic event. PTSD has also been called “shell shock” or “battle fatigue.”


The exact cause of PTSD is unknown. PTSD is triggered by exposure to a traumatic event. Situations in which a person feels intense fear, helplessness, or horror are considered traumatic. PTSD has been reported in people who experienced:

  • War
  • Rape
  • Physical assault
  • Natural disaster such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or fires
  • Sexual abuse
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Animal attack

Researchers are studying how problems with synapses in the brain may be linked to PTSD.

Risk Factors

Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. Symptoms of PTSD are more likely to occur if the person has:

  • Previous traumatic experiences
  • A history of being physically abused
  • Poor coping skills
  • Lack of social support
  • Existing ongoing stress
  • A social environment that produces shame, guilt, stigmatization, or self-hatred
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Family history of mental health problems


People with PTSD experience symptoms of anxiety following a traumatic event. These symptoms fall into 3 categories:

  • Re-experiencing of the event:
    • Dreams or nightmares
    • Intrusive memories
    • Flashbacks
    • Anxious reactions to reminders of the event
  • Avoidance:
    • Avoidance of external reminders of the event, such as places, people, or situations
    • Efforts to avoid feelings, thoughts, or memories related to the event
  • Negative changes in mood and cognition related to trauma:
    • Detachment
    • Numbness
    • Difficulty remembering relevant details of the trauma
  • Arousal:
    • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
    • Anger and irritability
    • Difficulty concentrating or paying attention
    • Being easily startled
    • Hypervigilance

People with PTSD may also have:

  • Substance abuse problems
  • Physical symptoms, such as pain, rapid breathing or heart rate, and sweating
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Relationship problems


You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. This may be done by using a structured interview and/or a questionnaire. You will also likely be given a psychological assessment. PTSD will be diagnosed if you have:

  • Symptoms of PTSD, which have lasted for more than one month
  • Both emotional distress and disturbed functioning (like problems at school, work, or home) due to the symptoms

PTSD is categorized according to when symptoms occur and how long they last. There are 3 types of PTSD:

  • Acute—symptoms last between 1-3 months after the event
  • Chronic—symptoms last more than 3 months after the event
  • Delayed onset—symptoms do not appear until at least 6 months after the event


There are many treatments available to help manage PTSD. General goals include learning how to cope with symptoms, reducing symptoms, and strategies to improve relationships with family or friends. Treatment will also focus on any other conditions you may have, such as depression or substance abuse. The length of treatment will depend on the individual but can range from a few months to a few years. Treatment can often include a combination of approaches.


The events that trigger PTSD cannot be predicted or prevented. However, there are some factors that might prevent PTSD from developing after a traumatic event, such as:

  • Working with a cognitive-behavioral therapist
  • Having a strong network of social support

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