Skip to main content

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What is post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

PTSD is a condition that occurs after 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 increases my risk for PTSD?

  • An accident
  • A crime done to you or a crime you saw, 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?

  • Flashbacks (vivid memories of the event), or images of the event suddenly come into your mind
  • Trouble sleeping, nightmares, or hallucinations
  • Feeling anxious, restless, or on edge
  • Feeling fearful or helpless, or avoiding feelings by becoming numb or detached
  • Avoiding things or people that remind you of the trauma
  • Avoiding thinking or talking about the traumatic event
  • Angry or violent outbursts
  • Negative feelings about yourself, depression, or feeling guilty
  • Trouble paying attention, concentrating, or getting things done

How is PTSD diagnosed?

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

  • At least 1 constant symptom of re-experiencing the traumatic event
  • At least 3 symptoms of avoidance
  • At least 2 hyperarousal (overreaction) symptoms or mood swings
  • Distress caused by your symptoms that affects your daily activities, work, and relationships

How is PTSD treated?

  • Medicines may decrease anxiety or depression, or help you stay calm and relaxed. Some medicines may help you sleep or reduce nightmares PTSD can cause. Certain other medicines reduce activity between brain chemicals involved in PTSD. These may be used if other medicines or treatments are not effective.
  • 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 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.
    • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a procedure used to stimulate a specific part of the brain with pulses from a magnet. You may need TMS in combination with medicines and therapy.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

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), Office of Science Policy, Planning, and Communications
    6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 6200, 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.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2022 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Further information

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