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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder


What is post traumatic stress disorder?

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that may occur after you have experienced a traumatic situation or event. This event may have caused you to feel intense fear, pain, or sorrow. You may think you are going to get hurt or die. You may also continue to feel helpless after the event. These feelings affect your daily activities and relationships.

What causes PTSD?

  • An accident
  • A crime done to you or a crime you may have seen, such as a murder, robbery, or shooting
  • A serious disease, such as cancer, or the death of a loved one
  • A natural disaster, such as a flood, earthquake, hurricane, or tornado
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Violence, war, or terrorism

What are the signs and symptoms of PTSD?

Signs and symptoms of PTSD may be divided into 3 groups:

  • Reliving or re-experiencing the event:
    • You have nightmares.
    • You have flashbacks (recalling the past) or images of the event that keep coming into your mind.
    • You have goosebumps, chills, or a pounding, fast heartbeat when you are reminded of the event.
  • Avoidance:
    • You avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event.
    • You avoid activities, places, or people that remind you of the traumatic event.
    • You have trouble spending time with friends and family or lose interest in doing enjoyable things.
    • You have little or no emotion or are unable to express your feelings.
  • Increased arousal (overreaction) or mood swings:
    • You easily get stressed or hurt emotionally.
    • You have sudden feelings of sadness, fear, guilt, or anger.
    • You feel nervous, panicked, or irritable.
    • You have trouble paying attention or getting things done.
    • You have problems sleeping.

How is PTSD diagnosed?

Healthcare providers will ask you questions about your symptoms and use a guide to diagnose PTSD. You have PTSD if you have had all of the following for at least 1 month:

  • You have seen, faced, or experienced an event that involved serious injury, near death, or death.
  • Your response to the event was great fear, helplessness, or horror.
  • You have at least 1 constant symptom of re-experiencing the traumatic event.
  • You have at least 3 symptoms of avoidance.
  • You have at least 2 hyperarousal symptoms.
  • Your symptoms cause distress and affect your daily activities, work, and relationships.

How is PTSD treated?

  • Cognitive behavior therapy: This therapy will help you learn to face the feared object or situation slowly and carefully. You will also learn to control your mental and physical reactions of fear.
    • Cognitive restructuring: Healthcare providers help you learn which thoughts cause anxiety. Your therapist will help you see the event differently so you can change your thoughts and decrease your anxiety.
    • Exposure therapy or desensitization: This therapy helps you face a feared object, person, or situation. Fantasy or real-life situations are used with this therapy. The goal of desensitization therapy is to help decrease your fear or anxiety.
  • Relaxation therapy: Stress may cause pain, lead to illness, and slow healing. Relaxation therapy teaches you how to feel less physical and emotional stress. Deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and music are some forms of relaxation therapy.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: This is also called EMDR and is a type of exposure therapy. Healthcare providers help you make your eyes move back and forth while you imagine the trauma.
  • Psychological debriefing: This is often a single meeting with a therapist to have crisis counseling. You may have this right after a traumatic event to prevent or decrease further emotional problems.
  • Medicine:
    • Antianxiety medicine: This medicine may be given to decrease anxiety and help you feel calm and relaxed.
    • Antidepressants: These medicines decrease or stop the symptoms of depression.
    • Sedative: This medicine is given to help you stay calm and relaxed.

What are the risks of PTSD?

PTSD symptoms may get worse if not treated. You may have problems working or getting along with others. PTSD may affect your eating and sleeping habits, which may cause other health problems. You may hurt yourself or others.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
    Phone: 1- 802 - 2966300
    Web Address:
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Public Information & Communication Branch
    6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 8184, MSC 9663
    Bethesda , MD 20892-9663
    Phone: 1- 301 - 443-4513
    Phone: 1- 866 - 615-6464
    Web Address:

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You cannot make it to your next appointment.
  • You cannot sleep or are sleeping too much.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You think about hurting or killing yourself or someone else.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

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