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Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Who Gets PTSD?

Everyone reacts to traumatic events differently. Each person is unique in his or her ability to manage fear and stress and to cope with the threat posed by a traumatic event or situation. For that reason, not everyone who experiences or witnesses a trauma will develop PTSD. Further, the type of help and support a person receives from friends, family members and professionals following the trauma may influence the development of PTSD or the severity of symptoms.

PTSD was first brought to the attention of the medical community by war veterans, hence the names shell shock and battle fatigue syndrome. However, PTSD can occur in anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. People who have been abused as children or who have been repeatedly exposed to life-threatening situations are at greater risk for developing PTSD. Victims of trauma related to physical and sexual assault face the greatest risk for PTSD.

How Common Is PTSD?

About 3.6% of adult Americans -- about 5.2 million people -- suffer from PTSD during the course of a year, and an estimated 7.8 million Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. PTSD can develop at any age, including childhood. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than are men. This may be due to the fact that women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, abuse, and rape.

How Is PTSD Diagnosed?

PTSD is not diagnosed until at least one month has passed since the time a traumatic event has occurred. If symptoms of PTSD are present, the doctor will begin an evaluation by performing a complete medical history and physical exam. Although there are no lab tests to specifically diagnose PTSD, the doctor may use various tests to rule out physical illness as the cause of the symptoms.

If no physical illness is found, you may be referred to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional who is specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Psychiatrists and psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a person for an anxiety disorder. The doctor bases his or her diagnosis of PTSD on reported symptoms, including any problems with functioning caused by the symptoms. The doctor then determines if the symptoms and degree of dysfunction indicate PTSD. PTSD is diagnosed if the person has symptoms of PTSD that last for more than one month.

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