How To Recognize Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: 8 Common Signs And Symptoms

Date March 6, 2018

We all cope with stressful and traumatic events differently. Some people feel fine soon after a bad event and get back to their normal lives. But some develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Anyone can be affected by the condition, regardless of gender and age. Signs and symptoms may start to appear shortly after the traumatic event, but some people may develop the disorder years after the event occurred.

If PTSD is not treated, it gets worse and leads to isolation. Someone with untreated PTSD may cut off communication with friends and family, quit their job, stop doing things he or she used to enjoy, and even become suicidal. Treatment helps most people with PTSD, especially if it's started early.

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Factors that increase the risk of developing PTSD.

Some people are more likely than others to develop symptoms of PTSD after experiencing emotional and/or physical trauma. Factors that raise the risk of the disorder include the following:

  • the traumatizing situation is long-lasting;
  • the distressing event happened early in life;
  • there is a lack of support from family and friends;
  • there are other mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety;
  • having a job that involves exposure to potentially traumatic situations (e.g. serving in the military or the police, working as a paramedic);
  • a family history of mental health issues (such as anxiety, depression, and panic disorder).

Examples of events and situations that may lead to PTSD.

Not all people develop PTSD after experiencing situations or events described below, but these are the types of life experiences that can cause the disorder:

  • the unexpected death of a loved one;
  • being in combat;
  • witnessing a violent crime;
  • being a victim of a natural disaster (such as an earthquake, flood, or tsunami);
  • learning about one’s serious health problem;
  • being a victim of domestic abuse;
  • being a victim of sexual abuse;
  • being in a car crash or other type of accident;
  • being held hostage.

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Signs and symptoms of PTSD

People with PTSD experience the disorder differently. Signs and symptoms vary from person to person and may have a different degree of severity.

Common signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder include the following:

1. Flashbacks

During a flashback, a person with PTSD feels like he or she is re-experiencing the traumatic situation. Flashbacks may be triggered by something that reminds a person of the traumatic event (a place, person, item, smell, or sound), or they may come on suddenly, without external triggers.

2. Difficulty sleeping and nightmares

People with PTSD may have nightmares that involve elements of the traumatic event. Many of those with PTSD have trouble falling asleep and wake up often during the night.

3. Intrusive thoughts and memories

Most people think often about a traumatic event for some time after it happened. People with PTSD have recurrent, unwanted thoughts and memories about the event, and they are hard to control. These thoughts and memories may interfere with daily activities and make it hard to concentrate on anything else.

4. Avoidance

People who have PTSD tend to avoid talking about the traumatic event and avoid places, people, or anything that reminds them of the event. For example, someone who was rescued from a fire may develop pyrophobia (a fear of fire). People with PTSD also try hard to suppress thought and memories about the event.

5. Physical symptoms

Physical symptoms that are associated with PTSD include increased heart rate, sweating, dizziness, and nausea. These symptoms usually manifest when a person is in a situation that reminds him or her of the traumatic event.

6. Emotional detachment

Those with PTSD may find it hard to maintain relationships and relate to other people. They may feel like their loved ones don’t understand them and what they are going through. Another sign of PTSD is lack of interest in things and activities one used to enjoy.

7. Angry outbursts

Sometimes, if a person with a PTSD is in situations which reminds him or her of the trauma (or any upsetting situation), the person may feel threatened, angry, or frustrated, and have an outburst (e.g. scream at those around him/her or start throwing and breaking objects).

8. Distorted memory of the event

Someone with PTSD may not be able to recall details of the traumatic event correctly or have a distorted perception of the event. Many of those with PTSD feel survivor’s guilt.

If symptoms described above last at least a month, a diagnosis of PTSD can be made.

If you think you may have post-traumatic stress disorder, talk to a psychiatrist or your doctor, who may then refer you to a mental health professional experienced in treating PTSD. If you think someone you know has PTSD, urge that person to get help. If they are reluctant to seek help, talk to a mental health professional about what you can do for them.

PTSD is usually treated with a combination of talk therapy and medicines. Treatment of the disorder requires an individualized approach, and there are different types of therapy and drugs available for people with different symptoms.

PTSD is a serious issue, and it usually improves with the right treatment. Don’t hesitate to get help; seeking professional help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Source: NIMH, Mayo Clinic, WebMD

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This article is purely for informational purposes. Do not self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information stated in the article.