Skip to content

Mental Health Center

Font Size

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder - Topic Overview

How does PTSD develop?

All people with PTSD have personally experienced—or have experienced through others—a traumatic event that caused them to fear for their lives, see horrible things, and feel helpless. Strong emotions caused by the event create changes in the brain that may result in PTSD.3

Many people who go through a traumatic event don't get PTSD. It isn't clear why some people develop PTSD and others don't. How likely you are to get PTSD depends on many things. These include:

  • How intense the trauma was.
  • If you lost a loved one or were hurt.
  • How close you were to the event.
  • How strong your reaction was.
  • How much you felt in control of events.
  • How much help and support you got after the event.

PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not happen until months or years later. They also may come and go over many years. About half of people who develop PTSD get better at some time. But other people who develop PTSD always will have some symptoms.4

If you have symptoms of PTSD, counseling can help you cope. Your symptoms don't have to interfere with your everyday activities, work, and relationships. It is never too late to get professional help or other forms of support that can help you manage the symptoms of PTSD.

Reminders and anniversaries of the event can make symptoms worse.

How is PTSD treated?

The most effective treatments for PTSD are:5, 6

  • Counseling, which can help you understand your thoughts and learn ways to cope with your feelings. This can help you feel more in control and get you back to the activities in your life. A type of counseling called cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to be the most effective form of counseling for PTSD.1, 2
  • Antidepressant medicines, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These can help you feel less sad and worried. SSRIs include fluoxetine (such as Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft).

You may need to try different types of treatment before finding the one that helps you. Your doctor will help you with this. These treatments may include other types of medicines and other forms of counseling, such as group counseling. If you have other problems along with PTSD, such as overuse of alcohol or drugs, you may need treatment for those also.

Treatment can help you feel more in control of your emotions, have fewer symptoms, and enjoy life again.


One Man's Story:

"I can't turn my brain off. Sometimes I stay up all night. The bad part is not staying up, but what's going through my head. I can't stop it."—Marvin

Read more about Marvin.

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.
Next Article:

Today on WebMD

Differences between feeling depressed or feeling blue.
lunar eclipse
Signs of mania and depression.
man screaming
Causes, symptoms, and therapies.
woman looking into fridge
When food controls you.
Woman standing in grass field barefoot, wind blowi
Plate of half eaten cakes
mother kissing newborn
Woman multitasking
colored pencils
Woman relaxing with a dog

WebMD Special Sections