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Mental Health Center

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Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder -- Symptoms

What Are the Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder -- or PTSD -- is a condition in which one's life has been disrupted by an actual or perceived event that was life-threatening or violent or posed a risk for serious injury. 

Someone who has experienced severe trauma -- war, combat, natural disaster, physical or sexual abuse -- or witnessed violence, such as murder or physical abuse, may display one or more of these symptoms:

Intrusion (re-experiencing):

  • Reliving the event with repeated flashbacks or recurring dreams of the event (Children may not remember the whole event, but may be haunted by a single image. They may express their fear by repeatedly play-acting an event or action.)
  • Frightening or disturbing dreams
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Intense distress if exposed to anything resembling the event

Hypervigilance (hyperarousal and  reactivity):

  • Preoccupation with possible unknown threats, constantly watching and scanning surroundings, startling easiiy. A persistent sense of insecurity

Avoidance behaviors:

  • Efforts to avoid any people or activities that may arouse recollection of the trauma

Changes in mood and thinking:

  • Trouble recalling trauma-related events
  • Distorted beliefs about the world or oneself (for example, being all bad)
  • Negative or detached emotions
  • Loss of interest

Other symptoms may involve:

  • Psychological numbing
  • Inability to relate to others
  • Chronic physical symptoms such as pain, headaches, or irritable bowels
  • In young children: agitated behavior, difficulty concentrating, or developmental regression in such things as toilet training or speech
  • No sense of a future -- no expectation of having a family, of having a career, or of living to old age
  • Dissociation, whereby someone can experience derealization or depersonalization


See Your Doctor About PTSD If:

If you've suffered a traumatic experience, it's best to seek help from a mental health professional. Don't wait for symptoms to appear.

If you are having symptoms of PTSD, you don't have to keep suffering. Seek help from a mental health professional. Treatments are available.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on March 22, 2015

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