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Symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

For most people, PTSD starts within about 3 months of the traumatic event. For some people, signs of PTSD don't show up until years later. PTSD can happen to anyone at any age. Even children can have it. Some people get better within 6 months, while others may have the disorder for much longer. Symptoms of PTSD may vary in frequency and intensity over time, and may fall into 3 categories:

  • Re-experiencing the event:
    • Dreams or nightmares
    • Intrusive memories
    • Flashbacks
    • Anxious reactions to reminders of the event
  • Avoidance:
    • Avoidance of external reminders of the event, such as places, situations, or people that can trigger memories
    • Efforts to avoid feelings, thoughts, memories related to the event
  • Negative changes in mood and cognition related to trauma including detachment, numbness, difficulties remembering relevant details of the trauma
  • Arousal:
    • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
    • Anger and irritability
    • Difficulty concentrating or maintaining attention
    • Being easily startled
    • Hypervigilance

Physical symptoms may also occur such as:

  • Impaired memory
  • Stomach and digestive problems
  • Rapid breathing or heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Immune system problems

People with PTSD may also abuse alcohol or drugs.

REFERENCES:

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). American Psychiatric Association; 2013.

Post-traumatic stress disorder. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/post-traumatic-stress-disorder. Updated June 2017. Accessed February 1, 2018.

Post-traumatic stress disorder. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml. Updated February 2016. Accessed February 1, 2018.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114915/Posttraumatic-stress-disorder-PTSD. Updated June 26, 2017. Accessed February 1, 2018.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/anxiety-and-stressor-related-disorders/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd. Updated May 2014. Accessed February 1, 2018.

PTSD basics. National Center for PTSD—US Department of Veterans Affairs. Available at: https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/basics/index.asp. Updated April 17, 2017. Accessed February 1, 2018.

Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD  Last Updated: 12/20/2014