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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder


What is post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

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?

  • Nightmares, flashbacks, bad memories, hallucinations
  • Feeling anxious, restless, or on edge
  • Trouble sleeping, feeling depressed
  • Feeling afraid, helpless, numb, or detached from others
  • Angry or violent outbursts
  • Avoiding things or people that remind you of the trauma
  • Negative feelings about yourself, feeling guilty

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?

  • Medicines may be given to decrease anxiety, depression, or help you stay calm and relaxed.
  • Therapy may be done in a group or one on one with a therapist. Family and friends are also an important part of recovery.
    • Cognitive behavior therapy helps 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.
      • During cognitive processing therapy , a therapist helps you identify which thoughts about the trauma cause anxiety. He or she will help you see the event differently. This may help you learn to change your thoughts and decrease your anxiety.
      • During prolonged exposure , a therapist helps you work through thoughts, feelings, and memories about the trauma. A therapist helps you learn how to handle your thoughts and feelings. This can decrease your fear or anxiety.
    • Talk therapy may be one or more meetings with a therapist to have crisis counseling. You may have this right after a traumatic event to prevent or decrease further emotional problems.
    • Relaxation therapy teaches you how to feel less physical and emotional stress. Stress may cause pain, lead to illness, and slow healing. Deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and music are some forms of relaxation therapy.
    • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of exposure therapy. Healthcare providers help you make your eyes move back and forth while you imagine the trauma.

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:

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

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

When should I call my doctor?

  • You cannot sleep or are sleeping too much.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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 healthcare providers 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.

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Further information

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