Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

(PTSD)

Definition

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that develops after a traumatic event. PTSD has also been called "shell shock" or "battle fatigue."

Causes

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 abuse
  • Family history of mental health problems

Symptoms

People with PTSD experience symptoms of anxiety. These symptoms fall into three categories:
  • Re-experiencing of the event
    • Dreams or nightmares
    • Flashbacks
    • Anxious reactions to reminders of the event
    • Hallucinations
  • Avoidance
    • Avoidance of having close emotional contact with family and friends
    • Avoidance of people or places that are reminders of the event
    • Loss of memory about the event
    • Feelings of detachment, numbness
  • Arousal
    • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
    • Anger and irritability
    • Difficulty concentrating or paying attention
    • Being easily startled
    • Hypervigilance
People with PTSD may also:

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