Learn About Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

What is the definition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder. It can occur after you have gone through an extreme emotional trauma that involved the threat of injury or death.

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What are the alternative names for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?


What are the causes of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Health care providers do not know why traumatic events cause PTSD in some people, but not in others. Your genes, emotions, and family setting may all play roles. Past emotional trauma may increase your risk of PTSD after a recent traumatic event.

With PTSD, the body's response to a stressful event is changed. Normally, after the event, the body recovers. The stress hormones and chemicals the body releases due to the stress go back to normal levels. For some reason in a person with PTSD, the body keeps releasing the stress hormones and chemicals.

PTSD can occur at any age. It can occur after events such as:

  • Assault
  • Car accidents
  • Domestic abuse
  • Natural disasters
  • Prison stay
  • Sexual assault
  • Terrorism
  • War
What are the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

There are 4 types of PTSD symptoms:

1. Reliving the event, which disturbs day-to-day activity

  • Flashback episodes in which the event seems to be happening again and again
  • Repeated upsetting memories of the event
  • Repeated nightmares of the event
  • Strong, uncomfortable reactions to situations that remind you of the event

2. Avoidance

  • Emotional numbing or feeling as though you do not care about anything
  • Feeling detached
  • Not able to remember important parts of the event
  • Not interested in normal activities
  • Showing less of your moods
  • Avoiding places, people, or thoughts that remind you of the event
  • Feeling like you have no future

3. Hyperarousal

  • Always scanning your surroundings for signs of danger (hypervigilance)
  • Not able to concentrate
  • Startling easily
  • Feeling irritable or having outbursts of anger
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep

4. Negative thoughts and mood or feelings

  • Constant guilt about the event, including survivor guilt
  • Blaming others for the event
  • Not being able to recall important parts of the event
  • Loss of interest in activities or other people

You may also have symptoms of anxiety, stress, and tension:

  • Agitation or excitability
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Feeling your heart beat in your chest
  • Headache
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What are the current treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Treatment for PTSD involves talk therapy (counseling), medicines, or both.


During talk therapy, you talk with a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or therapist, in a calm and accepting setting. They can help you manage your PTSD symptoms. They will also guide you as you work through your feelings about the trauma.

There are many types of talk therapy. One type that is often used for PTSD is called desensitization. During therapy, you are encouraged to remember the traumatic event and express your feelings about it. Over time, memories of the event become less frightening.

During talk therapy, you may also learn ways to relax, such as when you start to have flashbacks.


Your provider may suggest that you take medicines. They can help ease your depression or anxiety. They can also help you sleep better. Medicines need time to work. DO NOT stop taking them or change the amount (dosage) you take without talking to your provider. Ask your provider about possible side effects and what to do if you experience them.

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What are the support groups for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Support groups, whose members are people who have similar experiences with PTSD, can be helpful. Ask your provider about groups in your area.

Support groups are usually not a good substitute for talk therapy or taking medicine, but they can be a helpful addition.

  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America -- adaa.org
  • National Institute of Mental Health -- www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

If you are a caregiver of a military veteran, you can find support and encouragement through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at www.ptsd.va.gov.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

PTSD can be treated. You can increase the chance of a good outcome:

  • See a provider right away if you think you have PTSD.
  • Take an active part in your treatment and follow your provider's instructions.
  • Accept support from others.
  • Take care of your health. Exercise and eat healthy foods.
  • DO NOT drink alcohol or use recreational drugs. These can make your PTSD worse.
When should I contact a medical professional for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Although traumatic events can cause distress, not all feelings of distress are symptoms of PTSD. Talk about your feelings with friends and relatives. If your symptoms do not improve soon or are making you very upset, contact your provider.

Seek help right away if:

  • You feel overwhelmed
  • You are thinking of hurting yourself or anyone else
  • You are unable to control your behavior
  • You have other very upsetting symptoms of PTSD

If you are thinking about hurting yourself or others, call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org. You can also call 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK). The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline provides free and confidential support 24/7, anytime day or night.

If you are a veteran in crisis, or a loved one of a veteran in crisis, you can call 988 then press 1 or text 838255. You can also open a chat at veteranscrisisline.net. Free, confidential support is available 24/7. The Veterans Crisis Line can help even if you're not enrolled in VA benefits or health care.

You can also call 911 or the local emergency number or go to the hospital emergency room. DO NOT delay.

If someone you know has attempted suicide, call 911 or the local emergency number right away. DO NOT leave the person alone, even after you have called for help.

Post-traumatic stress disorder
What are the latest Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Clinical Trials?
A Phase 2, Open-Label, Randomized Comparative Effectiveness Study for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy in U.S. Veterans With Chronic PTSD
Summary: This open-label, randomized study will assess the comparative effectiveness of two versus three active MDMA-assisted sessions in U.S. military veterans with at least moderate chronic PTSD treated in an outpatient VA treatment clinic.
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An Experiential, One-to-one Interview Process Examining the Perception of Research Assessments and Equipment From Individuals With Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Summary: To gain insight and perspective unique to individuals with a diagnosis of PTSD, this study will utilize an experiential one-to-one interview format. During the interview, an investigator will walk the participants through several aspects of an ANS battery of tests, provide a tour and information about other equipment in the research lab and discuss tools and procedures associated with the applicat...
What are the Latest Advances for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Veterans With Comorbid Posttraumatic Headache and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms: A Randomized Clinical Trial.
Summary: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Veterans With Comorbid Posttraumatic Headache and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms: A Randomized Clinical Trial.
Guided, internet based, cognitive behavioural therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder: pragmatic, multicentre, randomised controlled non-inferiority trial (RAPID).
Summary: Guided, internet based, cognitive behavioural therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder: pragmatic, multicentre, randomised controlled non-inferiority trial (RAPID).
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Implementation of a Mobile Technology-Supported Diaphragmatic Breathing Intervention in Military mTBI With PTSD.
Summary: Implementation of a Mobile Technology-Supported Diaphragmatic Breathing Intervention in Military mTBI With PTSD.
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date: April 30, 2022
Published By: Fred K. Berger, MD, addiction and forensic psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

American Psychiatric Association. Trauma- and stressor-related disorders. In: American Psychiatric Association, ed. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2013:265-290.

Dekel S, Gilbertson MW, Orr SP, Rauch SL, Wood NE, Pitman RK. Trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder. In: Stern TA, Fava M, Wilens TE, Rosenbaum JF, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 34.

Lyness JM. Psychiatric disorders in medical practice. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 369.

National Institute of Mental Health website. Anxiety disorders. www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders. Updated April 2022. Accessed August 9, 2022.