What is post-traumatic stress disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health issue that can develop after a distressing event. The event may be dangerous, life-threatening, shocking or very scary. Examples include:

  • Accident.
  • Fire.
  • Military combat.
  • Natural disaster, such as a tornado.
  • Physical abuse.
  • Sexual assault or rape.
  • Sudden death of a loved one.
  • Terrorist attack.

The traumatic event may have happened to you, or you may have seen it happen to someone else.

It’s normal to feel upset after something like that happening. You may have trouble sleeping, eating or doing things you enjoy for a little while. But with PTSD, symptoms last longer than a few months and interfere with your life.

How common is PTSD?

At least half the people in the United States have experienced a traumatic event. Among this group, 10% of men and 20% of women develop PTSD. Women experience neglect or abuse during childhood more often than men. They also experience sexual assault and domestic violence more often. Women tend to experience trauma differently than men, too.

Are some people more likely to develop PTSD than others?

There’s no way to predict who will develop PTSD from a traumatic event. However, PTSD is more common in people who have experienced:

  • Certain types of trauma, particularly military combat or sexual assault.
  • Injury during the event.
  • Lack of support from loved ones after a traumatic event.
  • Long-lasting or repeated trauma.
  • Personal history of anxiety or depression, even before the traumatic event.
  • Strong initial reaction to the event (for example, shaking or throwing up).
  • Very intense trauma.

What causes PTSD?

A traumatic event causes PTSD. But, scientists aren’t sure why some people get PTSD and others don’t.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD symptoms vary from person to person. Still, everyone with PTSD experiences one or more of the following:

  • Avoiding things: You may avoid people or situations that remind you of the event. Examples include friends you met in the military service, the part of town where you experienced the trauma, or crowds in general. Some people with PTSD try to stay so busy that they don’t think about the event.
  • Being on edge: The disorder can make it hard for you to relax or enjoy the things you used to. You may feel jittery or anxious. Maybe you’re easily startled or always expect something bad to happen. You also may have trouble sleeping or concentrating.
  • Having negative thoughts and feelings: PTSD can make you feel negative, angry, sad, distrustful, guilty, or numb.
  • Reliving or re-experiencing the traumatic event: This can take the form of flashbacks or dreams. Perhaps a noise like a car backfiring or seeing something similar (for example, a fire) will trigger sudden, unwelcome memories.

How does PTSD affect your life?

PTSD can lead to other issues with your health and life, such as:

Children with PTSD may:

  • Act out the traumatic event when playing.
  • Cling to a parent or other adult.
  • Forget how to talk, or at least seem to.
  • Wet the bed even if they know how to use the toilet.

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