Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

(PTSD)

Definition

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."

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 use disorder
  • Family history of mental health problems

Symptoms

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

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