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.
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:
There are 4 types of PTSD symptoms:
1. Reliving the event, which disturbs day-to-day activity
4. Negative thoughts and mood or feelings
You may also have symptoms of anxiety, stress, and tension:
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.
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.
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.
PTSD can be treated. You can increase the chance of a good outcome:
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:
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.
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.
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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.