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Conditions InDepth: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
by Amy Scholten, MPH
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.
Post-traumatic stress disorder. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at:
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Accessed December 20, 2014.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated August 19, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2016.
Stern, TA et al. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier, 2008.
Last reviewed December 2015 by Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated: 12/20/2014