Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a traumatic event or ordeal in which actual physical or emotional harm occurred or was threatened. Events that can trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults such as rape or mugging, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat. PTSD can be extremely disabling.
Many people with PTSD repeatedly re-experience the ordeal in the form of flashback episodes, memories, nightmares, or frightening thoughts, especially when they are exposed to events or objects reminiscent of the trauma. Anniversaries of the event can also trigger symptoms. People with PTSD also experience emotional numbness and sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, and irritability or outbursts of anger. Feelings of intense guilt are also common. Most people with PTSD try to avoid any reminders or thoughts of the ordeal. PTSD is diagnosed when symptoms last more than one month.
Co-occurring depression, alcohol use disorder, substance abuse, or another anxiety disorder is not uncommon. The likelihood of treatment success is increased when these other conditions are appropriately identified and treated as well.
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:
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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