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Conditions InDepth: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a traumatic event or ordeal in which actual physical or emotional harm occurred or was threatened. Events that can trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, such as rape or mugging, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat. PTSD can be extremely disabling.

Many people with PTSD repeatedly re-experience the ordeal in the form of flashback episodes, memories, nightmares, or frightening thoughts, especially when they are exposed to events or objects reminiscent of the trauma. Anniversaries of the event can also trigger symptoms. People with PTSD also experience emotional numbness and sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, and irritability or outbursts of anger. Feelings of intense guilt are also common. Most people with PTSD try to avoid any reminders or thoughts of the ordeal. PTSD is diagnosed when symptoms last more than one month.

Co-occurring depression, alcohol abuse, substance abuse, or another anxiety disorder is not uncommon. The likelihood of treatment success is increased when these other conditions are appropriately identified and treated as well.

What are the risk factors for PTSD?What are the symptoms of PTSD?How is PTSD diagnosed?What are the treatments for PTSD?How can I reduce my risk of PTSD?What questions should I ask my doctor?What is it like to live with PTSD?Where can I get more information about PTSD?

Revision Information

  • DynaMed Editors. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated August 25, 2010. Accessed September 5, 2010.

  • National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov.

  • Stern, TA et al. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier, 2008.