Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after you have been through a traumatic event.
A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that you see or that happens
to you. During this type of event, you think that your life or others' lives
are in danger. You may feel afraid or feel that you have no control over what
Anyone who has gone through a life-threatening
event can develop PTSD. These events can include:
After the event you might find that you are thinking a lot about what happened, avoiding reminders about the event, and thinking negative thoughts about yourself and the world.
After going through a
traumatic event, you may:
PTSD symptoms can change your behavior and how you live
your life. You may pull away from other people, work all the time, or
use drugs or alcohol. You may find it hard to be in
relationships, and you may have problems with your spouse and family. You may
depressed. Some people with PTSD also have
panic attacks, which are sudden feelings of fear or
worry that something bad is about to happen.
Children can have
PTSD too. They may have the symptoms above and symptoms that depend on how old
they are. As children get older their symptoms are more like those of
If you think
you have PTSD, it's important to get treatment. Treatment can work, and early
treatment may help reduce long-term symptoms.footnote 1
If you think you have PTSD:
If you have thoughts about hurting yourself or someone else, call 911, 1-800-273-TALK (suicide hotline), or go to a hospital emergency room.
All people with PTSD have
personally experienced-or have experienced through others-a traumatic event that caused them to fear for their lives, see
horrible things, and feel helpless. Strong emotions caused by the event create
changes in the brain that may result in PTSD.
Many people who go through a traumatic event don't get PTSD. It isn't
clear why some people develop PTSD and others don't. How likely you are to get
PTSD depends on many things. These include:
PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic
event, but they may not happen until months or years later. They also may come
and go over many years. About half of people who develop PTSD get
better at some time. But other people who
develop PTSD always will have some symptoms.footnote 2
If you have symptoms of PTSD, counseling can help you cope. Your symptoms
don't have to interfere with your everyday activities, work, and relationships.
It is never too late to get professional help or other forms of support that
can help you manage the symptoms of PTSD.
anniversaries of the event can make symptoms worse.
The most effective treatments
for PTSD are:footnote 3, footnote 4
You may need to try different types of treatment before
finding the one that helps you. Your doctor will help you with this. These
treatments may include other types of medicines and other forms of counseling,
group counseling. If you have other problems along
with PTSD, such as overuse of alcohol or drugs, you may need treatment for
Treatment can help you feel more in control of your
emotions, have fewer symptoms, and enjoy life again.
One Man's Story:
"I can't turn my brain off.
Sometimes I stay up all night. The bad part is not staying up, but what's going
through my head. I can't stop it."-Marvin
Read more about Marvin.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Living with PTSD:
PTSD and veterans:
Telling others about having
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is hard. But for
the following people, it's part of recovering.
Read what they say
about how PTSD felt, how it affected their families, and how treatment is
helping them get better.
Marvin and his family survived
Hurricane Katrina on a neighbor's rooftop.
"I have visions of
being up on the roof and going through it all over again. I just keep seeing
the water coming up and up."-Marvin
Tim is an Iraq war veteran and
"When I came home, so much had changed for me on a
day-to-day basis. I just couldn't communicate the same."-Tim
Read Tim's story.
Ron is a Vietnam veteran who has
had PTSD symptoms for decades.
"Whenever I was under extreme
stress, it would come back and slam me."-Ron
Read Ron's story.
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be
terrifying. They may disrupt your life and make it hard to continue with your
daily activities. It may be hard just to get through the day.
symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not happen
until months or years later. They also may come and go over many years. If the
symptoms last longer than 4 weeks, cause you great distress, or interfere with
your work or home life, you may have PTSD.
Even if you
always have some symptoms, counseling can help you cope. Your symptoms don't
have to interfere with your everyday activities, work, and relationships.
Most people who go through a traumatic event have some symptoms
at the beginning but don't develop PTSD.
There are four types of
Bad memories of the traumatic event can come back at any time. You may
feel the same fear and horror you did when the event took place. You may feel
like you're going through the event again. This is called a flashback.
Sometimes there is a trigger: a sound or sight that causes you to relive the
event. Triggers might include:
You may try to avoid situations or people that
trigger memories of the traumatic event. You may even avoid talking or thinking
about the event.
find it hard to express your feelings. This is another way to avoid
may be alert and on the lookout for danger. This is known as increased
emotional arousal. It can cause you to:
Other symptoms also may
"People don't understand the
emotion tied to flashbacks. It's like it's happening all over again, and you're
having the same physiological reactions."- Marvin
Children can have PTSD
too. They may have the symptoms listed above and/or symptoms that depend on how
old they are. As children get older, their symptoms are more like those of
If you think you or a loved one has symptoms of PTSD, see your doctor right away.
Fill out this form(What is a PDF document?) and take it to your doctor. Treatment can work, and early
treatment may help reduce long-term symptoms.
If you were in the military, you
may have seen combat. You may have been on missions that exposed you to
horrible and life-threatening experiences. You may have been shot at, seen a
buddy shot, or seen death. These are types of events that can lead to
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Other things about a combat situation can add more stress to
an already stressful situation and may contribute to PTSD and other mental
health problems.footnote 5 These
things include what you do in the war, the politics around the war, where it's
fought, and the type of enemy you face.
Another cause of PTSD in the military can be
military sexual trauma (MST). This is any sexual
harassment or sexual assault that occurs while you are in the military. MST can
happen to men and women and can occur during peacetime, training, or war.
Many veterans don't seek
treatment for PTSD. You may feel that treatment won't help, or worry about what
people will think. Your military background may add other pressures that keep
you from seeking treatment. You may feel that it will hurt your career, or that
those in your unit will lose faith in you. You may fear that your unit will see
you as weak.
"Being in the Guard now is like a
mandatory support group, because they've all been there too."-Tim
There are many types of treatment for
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You and your
doctor will discuss the best treatment for you. You may have to try a number of
treatments before you find one that works for you.
A type of
counseling called cognitive-behavioral therapy and medicines known as SSRIs
appear to be the most effective treatments for PTSD.
Treatment can help you feel more in control of your emotions and result in
fewer symptoms, but you may still have some bad memories.
Counseling means talking with a therapist on your own or in a group about the
traumatic event and PTSD. You will talk with your therapist about your memories
and feelings. This will help you change how you think about your trauma. You
will learn how to deal with painful feelings and memories, so you can feel
There are different types of
counseling for PTSD. Several types of therapy have been shown to be effective in treating PTSD. These therapies are:
Finding a therapist you trust is important. A good
therapist will listen to your concerns and help you make changes in your life.
Your doctor can help you find one. If you are a veteran, the VA is a good place
to start. Churches sometimes offer services that help people get counseling. Or
you can call your state Health and Welfare office.
SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are a type of antidepressant medicine. These can
help you feel less sad and worried. They appear to be helpful, and for some
people they are very effective. SSRIs include fluoxetine
(such as Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft).
"It's hard to let people in on
your private thoughts. A professional is a great listener, and if you can let
them in, when you talk about your flashbacks, they understand that they're not
some random thoughts."-Marvin, 58
Your doctor also may
suggest you try other types of medicines and other forms of counseling.
If you are using medicine, take it exactly as prescribed.
Call your doctor if it's not helping your symptoms or if the side effects are
very bad. You and your doctor will decide what to do.
people don't seek treatment for PTSD. You may not seek treatment because you
think the symptoms are not bad enough or that you can work things out on your
own. But getting treatment is important.
Treatment can make your
symptoms less intense and stop them from coming back. It can help you connect
with your family, friends, and community. Many people get better with
If you need help deciding whether to see your doctor,
see some reasons why people don't get help and ways to overcome them.
When you first see your therapist,
he or she will ask questions about the traumatic event causing PTSD and how
severe your symptoms are. You may want your spouse, your partner, or a close
family member to come with you. This person can help your doctor understand
your symptoms and can help your therapist understand what you've been going
through. Being with someone you trust helps you relax.
If you have
other problems along with PTSD, such as overuse of alcohol or drugs, you also
may need treatment for those problems.
Recovery from PTSD does not mean forgetting the past trauma. It does mean that you learn how to not have the bad physical and emotional reactions in response to memories so that you can fully live your life. Recovery is not a cure. It helps you
believe that you can reach your goals and learn new things to help yourself. It
helps you gain self-confidence and respect for yourself.
"I'm a much more peaceful person
now. I sleep so much better."-Ron
Coping is about dealing
with your symptoms. When you cope with your symptoms in a positive way, you
often feel more in control. You accept what the traumatic event did and take
steps to improve your life.
Negative coping skills are certain ways you may try to
deal with your symptoms and problems that cause more harm than good. These are
quick fixes that don't improve your situation in the long run. They include
drinking too much, avoiding others, and lashing out.
There are times
when you may need a shoulder to cry on or a ride to the doctor. You may want to
learn more about PTSD or talk with others who have PTSD. You need people who
understand what you are going through and will help you and care about you.
This is your support network.
Support takes many
forms. You can find it in seminars and groups led by professionals, in groups
made up of others with PTSD, and in your relationships with family and friends.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) doesn't always
occur alone. Other medical conditions
often occur with it, such as:
"I didn't know why I needed to
drink or wanted to drink. But Vietnam was never very far away when I did."-Ron
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can harm your relationships with your family and
community. Feelings of anger and depression and not wanting to deal with people
can make it hard to connect with them. Pay attention to how you act with your
family and try not to pull away. Your relationships can make a big difference
in your recovery from PTSD.
Here are things you can do to help
yourself, your family, and your community better understand and deal with PTSD.
Your family and community are part of your recovery. Do as
much as you can to work with them. With knowledge, your family and community
can better help you.
"Talking about it with my wife
is getting easier. The more I talk about it with people, the better."-Tim
Read more about Tim.
Some people with PTSD are also depressed. For information on
how to help with this, see:
Your family and community are part of your recovery. Do
as much as you can to work with them. With this knowledge, your family and
community can better help you.
CitationsCahill SP, et al. (2009). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for adults. In EB Foa et al., eds., Effective Treatments for PTSD: Practice Guidelines From the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, 2nd ed., pp. 139-222. New York: Guilford Press.Johnson DC, et al. (2008). Posttraumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder. In MH Ebert et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Psychiatry, 2nd ed., pp. 366-377. New York: McGraw-Hill. Forbes, D, et al. (2010). A guide to guidelines for the treatment of PTSD and related conditions. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 23: 537-552.Department of Veterans Affairs (2010). VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline: Management of Post-Traumatic Stress, version 2.0. Available online: http://www.healthquality.va.gov/post_traumatic_stress_disorder_ptsd.asp.Wright KM, et al. (2012). Alcohol problems, aggression, and other externalizing behaviors after return from deployment: Understanding the role of combat exposure, internalizing symptoms, and social environment. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68(7): 782-800.Davidson J, et al. (2006). Treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder with venlafaxine extended release. Archives of General Psychiatry, 63(10): 1158-1165.Other Works ConsultedAbramowicz M, ed. (2006). Drugs for psychiatric disorders. Treatment Guidelines From the Medical Letter, 4(46): 35-46. Johnson DC, et al. (2008). Posttraumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder. In MH Ebert et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Psychiatry, 2nd ed., pp. 366-377. New York: McGraw-Hill. National Institute of Drug Abuse (2009). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide, 2nd ed. (NIH Publication No. 09 4180). Available online: http://www.drugabuse.gov/PDF/PODAT/PODAT.pdf.Sadock BJ, et al. (2007). Posttraumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder. In Kaplan and Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry, Behavioral Sciences/Clinical Psychiatry, 10th ed., pp. 612-622. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (2011). PTSD and problems with alcohol use. A National Center for PTSD fact sheet. Available online: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/ptsd-alcohol-use.asp.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerJessica Hamblen, PhD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Current as ofMay 3, 2017
Current as of:
May 3, 2017
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Jessica Hamblen, PhD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
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Last modified on: 8 September 2017