Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Basics

    Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a stage of severe anxiety in reaction to an extremely traumatic event. People suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD; historically called "shell shock" or "battle fatigue") can have feelings of intense fear, helplessness, or horror in response to a past traumatic event.

    While it is normal for anxiety to occur right after a traumatic event, PTSD develops later--sometimes weeks or months after the event. Symptoms of anxiety that begin within four weeks of after a traumatic event and resolve within four weeks--for example, having nightmares for a week after being in a car accident--are classified as "acute stress disorder," and are considered to be normal. PTSD, on the other hand, develops weeks to months after the traumatic event, and symptoms can last longer.

    The cause for PTSD is not known, but psychological, genetic, physical, and social factors may contribute to it. Between 5% and 10% of Americans will develop PTSD at some time in their lives. Women are more susceptible to PTSD than are men. PTSD is treated with both drug therapy and counseling.

  • Causes

    PTSD can develop after you experience a traumatic event. Personal traumatic experiences that can lead to PTSD include military combat, torture, violent personal assault (sexual assault, rape, physical attack, robbery, mugging), being kidnapped, being taken hostage, experiencing natural or man-made disasters, severe automobile accidents, or being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

    You may also develop PTSD after witnessing a traumatic event, even if you were not directly involved. Witnessing a serious injury or unnatural death of another person due to violent assault, or unexpectedly witnessing a dead body or body parts can lead to PTSD. PTSD can also develop after learning about an especially traumatic event. For example, learning of a violent assault, serious accident or serious injury, or unexpected death of a close friend or family member, or learning that one’s child has a life-threatening disease, can all lead to PTSD.

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