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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder - Topic Overview

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after you have been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that you see or that happens to you. During this type of event, you think that your life or others' lives are in danger. You may feel afraid or feel that you have no control over what is happening.

Anyone who has gone through a life-threatening event can develop PTSD. These events can include:

  • Combat
  • Military sexual trauma.
  • Terrorist attacks.
  • Physical violence.
  • Sexual violence, such as rape.
  • Serious accidents, such as a car wreck.
  • Natural disasters, such as a fire, tornado, flood, or earthquake.

After the event, you may feel scared, confused, and angry. If these feelings don't go away or they get worse, you may have PTSD. These symptoms may disrupt your life, making it hard to continue with your daily activities.

What are the symptoms?

After going through a traumatic event, you may:

  • Feel upset by things that remind you of what happened.
  • Have nightmares, vivid memories, or flashbacks of the event. You may feel like it's happening all over again.
  • Avoid places or things that remind you of what happened.
  • Feel numb or lose interest in things you used to care about.
  • Feel that you are always in danger.
  • Feel anxious, jittery, or irritated.
  • Have trouble sleeping or keeping your mind on one thing.

PTSD symptoms can change your behavior and how you live your life. You may pull away from other people, work all the time, or use drugs or alcohol. You may find it hard to be in relationships, and you may have problems with your spouse and family. You may become depressed. Some people with PTSD also have panic attacks, which are sudden feelings of fear or worry that something bad is about to happen.

Children can have PTSD too. They may have the symptoms above and symptoms that depend on how old they are. As children get older their symptoms are more like those of adults.

  • Young children may become upset if their parents are not close by. Or children may have trouble sleeping or suddenly have trouble with toilet training or going to the bathroom.
  • Children who are in the first few years of elementary school (ages 6 to 9) may act out the trauma through play, drawings, or stories. They may complain of physical problems or become more irritable or aggressive. They also may develop fears and anxiety that don't seem to be caused by the traumatic event.

What can you do if you think you have PTSD?

If you think you have PTSD, it's important to get treatment. Treatment can work, and early treatment may help reduce long-term symptoms.1, 2

If you think you have PTSD:

  • Talk to your family doctor.
  • Talk to a mental health professional, such as a therapist.
  • If you're a veteran, contact your local VA hospital or Vet Center.
  • Talk to a close friend or family member. He or she may be able to support you and find you help.
  • Talk to a religious leader.
  • Fill out this form(What is a PDF document?) and take it with you to the doctor.

If you have thoughts about hurting yourself or someone else, call911, 1-800-273-TALK (suicide hotline), or go to a hospital emergency room.

1|2

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 09, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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