Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

  • PAs charged with streamlining medical support for military caregivers

    PAs charged with streamlining medical support for military caregivers

    Anyone can get PTSD at any age. This includes war veterans and survivors of physical and sexual assault, abuse, accidents, disasters and many other serious events. Not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous event. Some people get PTSD after a friend or family member experiences danger or is harmed. The sudden, unexpected death of a loved one can also cause PTSD.

  • People with PTSD experience three types of symptoms: re-experiencing, avoidance and hyperarousal. Re-experiencing symptoms – such as flashbacks, bad dreams and frightening thoughts – may cause problems in everyday routine. They often start from the thoughts and feelings of the patient. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing.

  • Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These include: staying away from places, events or objects that are reminders of the experience; feeling emotionally numb; feeling strong depression, guilt or worry; losing interest in activities that were once enjoyed; having trouble remembering the precipitating event.

  • Hyperarousal symptoms include being easily startled, feeling tense, having difficulty sleeping and having angry outbursts. Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating or concentrating.

  • Children and teens can have extreme reactions to trauma, but their symptoms may not be the same as adults. Symptoms in very young children may include bedwetting, losing the ability to talk, acting out the precipitating event during playtime and being unusually clingy with a parent or caregiver.

  • Older children and teens may exhibit symptoms more like those seen in adults, and may also develop disruptive, disrespectful or destructive behaviors.

  • If you suspect PTSD, refer the patient to a psychiatrist or psychologist for diagnosis.

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that some people get after seeing or living through a dangerous event.

When in danger, it is natural to feel afraid. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in PTSD, this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger.

About 3.5% of U.S. adults have PTSD, but nearly have do not receive treatment for their condition and 42% of those who do are receiving “minimally adequate,” therapy, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health.


  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. 3 Jan 2013. Accessed 10 May 2013. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

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