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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

  • Synopsis: Published: 2009-08-26 (Revised/Updated 2016-10-11) - Information on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) a form of anxiety disorder that may happen if a person has experienced a traumatic event - Thomas C. Weiss (Disabled World).
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is defined as a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event, either experiencing it or witnessing it. After a trauma or life-threatening event, it is common to have reactions such as upsetting memories of the event, increased jumpiness, or trouble sleeping. PTSD can occur in people of any age, including children and adolescents. More than twice as many women as men experience PTSD following exposure to trauma. Depression, alcohol or other substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders frequently co-occur with PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder is classified as an anxiety disorder in the DSM IV; the characteristic symptoms are not present before exposure to the violently traumatic event.

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Quote: "PTSD as a condition has probably been in existence since humanity has endured traumatic events."

Defining Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a form of anxiety disorder that may happen once a person has experienced a traumatic event, something that the person perceives to be horrible or frightening and that they have witnessed or has occurred to them. During the event, the person believes their life or the lives of other are in danger. They may feel frightened, or feel they have no control over the event.

People who have experienced a life-threatening event may develop PTSD. Examples of events that may cause PTSD in people can include things such as terrorist attacks, physical or sexual abuse in children, combat or military exposure, car wrecks or serious accidents, and natural disasters; tornados, floods, earthquakes, or fires, for example. Once the event has occurred and a person has endured it they may feel confused, frightened, or angry. Should these emotions worsen or remain unresolved, the person may have PTSD. These symptoms can disrupt the person's life, making it difficult for them to continue their activities of daily living.

Children are at risk of developing PTSD as a result of traumatic experiences. They can experience the same symptoms that have been described, depending upon their age. As children grow older their symptoms become more like those adults experience. Younger children with PTSD can become upset if their parents are not within a close proximity. They may have trouble sleeping, or may suddenly develop issues with toilet training or using the bathroom. Children between the ages of six and nine years of age have the potential to begin acting out the trauma they have endured through play, stories, or through drawings. Children in this age group might complain of physical problems, or become more aggressive or irritable. They may also develop anxiety and fears which do not appear to be caused by the traumatic event they have endured.

PTSD as a condition has probably been in existence since humanity has endured traumatic events. The disorder has only been recognized formally as a diagnosis since 1980. During the American Civil War PTSD was referred to as, 'Soldier's Heart,' in combat veterans. During World War I it was referred to as, 'Combat Fatigue.' By the time World War II occurred, the disorder was being referred to as a, 'gross stress reaction.' The Vietnam War found PTSD being called, 'Post-Vietnam Syndrome.' Other names for PTSD include, 'Battle Fatigue,' and , 'Shell Shock.'

Around seven to eight-percent of persons in America will experience PTSD during their lifetime. People who have been raped or are combat veterans have an incidence of PTSD between ten and thirty-percent. The rate of PTSD is somewhat higher among persons of both African-American and Hispanic descent in the United States; the cause of this is believed to be due to higher rates of dissociation soon before and after the traumatic event itself, as well as a tendency on the part of these persons to blame themselves. People from these ethnic groups also tend to have less social support and an increased perception of racism. There are also differences in ways that ethnic groups express distress. There have been no statements found regarding the ways in which persons with additional disabilities in particular experience the additional disability of PTSD. Approximately five-million people experience PTSD at any given time in America. Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD as men.

Nearly half of all persons who make use of outpatient mental health services have been found to experience PTSD. Lack of physical presence during the time of a traumatic event, as demonstrated during the 2001 terrorist attacks on America, does not guarantee that a person cannot suffer from traumatic stress that leads to PTSD. Millions of Americans watched in horror as these events developed on national television, courtesy of main stream media. Statistics related to PTSD, children and teenagers shows that greater than forty-percent have endured one or more traumatic events with a resulting development of PTSD in fifteen-percent of girls and six-percent of boys. Three to six-percent of high school students, on average, in America and as many as thirty to sixty-percent of all children who have survived specific disasters experience PTSD as a result. Nearly every child who has witness a parent being killed or endured a sexual assault or abuse tends to develop PTSD. Greater than one-third of children who are exposed to community violence experience the disorder.

Causes of PTSD

Every person who experiences PTSD has lived through a traumatic event that has caused them to fear for their life, has seen horrible things, and was made to feel helpless. They have experienced strong emotions that were caused by the traumatic event, causing changes in their brain with the result being Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The majority of people who endure a traumatic event experience some symptoms at the beginning. Only some of these people will develop PTSD; it is not clear why some people develop PTSD while others do not. The likelihood of developing PTSD is dependent upon a number of things, including:

  • How strong your reaction was
  • How close you were to the event
  • How much you felt in control of events
  • How intense the trauma was or how long it lasted
  • If you lost someone you were close to or were hurt
  • How much help and support you got after the event

A number of people who do develop PTSD get better with time. Approximately one out of every three people who develop PTSD continue to experience symptoms. People who continue to experience symptoms have treatment options available to them. The symptoms do not have to interfere with everyday activities of daily living, work, or relationships.

Almost any event that is life-threatening, or which severely compromises a person's emotional well-being, can cause PTSD. These events can include witnessing or experiencing physical injury, severe accidents, kidnapping, torture, combat, natural or other disasters, terrorist attacks, rape, robbery, assault, physical, sexual, emotional or other forms of abuse, civil conflict, or receiving a life-threatening diagnosis.

Symptoms of PTSD

The symptoms of PTSD can be terrifying, disrupting a person's life and making it exceptionally difficult to continue with activities of daily living. The symptoms of the disorder commonly begin shortly after the traumatic event itself, although they may not start until months or even years later. The symptoms of PTSD can also be intermittent, appearing and disappearing over a number of years. Should the symptoms last for longer than four weeks, cause great amounts of stress, or interfere with either home life or work - you most likely have PTSD.

There are four types of symptoms associated with PTSD; these include:

  • Numbing
  • Avoidance
  • Hyperarousal
  • Reliving the event

Reliving the Event: This is sometimes also referred to as, 're-experiencing the symptoms.' The person has bad memories of the traumatic event that can come back to them at any time. They may feel the same horror and fears they did while the event was taking place. The person may have nightmares, or feel as if they are going through the event again; this is called a, 'flashback.' At times there is some form of trigger that initiates this, a sight or sound that causes them to relive the event. Triggers can include things such as hearing a car backfire, or witnessing a car accident. The person may see a new report related to a similar event and have memories of the event they endured.

Avoiding Situations that Remind the Person of the Event: A person with PTSD may avoid situations or people that trigger memories of the traumatic event they have endured. They may avoid thinking about or talking about the event. For example; a person who has been through an earthquake might avoid watching television shows that present scenes with earthquakes in them. A person who was robbed at gunpoint at a drive-in may avoid drive-ins. Others may simply stay so busy that they do not have time to think about the event that has resulted in PTSD.

Feeling Numb: A person with PTSD may find it difficult to express their feelings adequately; this is a way to avoid memories of a traumatic event. They may not have loving or positive feelings towards others and stay away from relationships. They may not be interested in activities they once enjoyed. The person might forget about portions of the traumatic event they have endured, or find that they are unable to speak about them.

Hyperarousal: Persons with PTSD might be jittery, always on alert, or on the lookout for danger - something referred to as, 'hyperarousal.' Hyperarousal can cause a person to be become irritable or angry, have a hard time sleeping, and experience difficulty concentrating. They may fear for their safety or the safety of others, feeling as if they are always, 'on-guard.' The person may startle easily when someone surprises them.

Persons with PTSD can also experience additional problems, to include:

  • Physical symptoms
  • Employment problems
  • Drinking or drug problems
  • Feelings of hopelessness, shame, or despair
  • Relationships problems including divorce and violence

Treating PTSD

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of counseling that appears to be the most effective form of counseling for persons with PTSD. There are different types of CBT, such as Cognitive Therapy and Exposure Therapy. A similar form of therapy is known as, 'EMDR,' or, 'Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing,' Therapy and is also used to treat PTSD. There are a number of medications available to treat PTSD as well. A form of medication known as a, 'Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI), which is used to treat depression, is also effective in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Awareness: PTSD Awareness Information

Teal awareness ribbonTeal is the color of the PTSD awareness ribbon. The United States Senate designated June 27th as National PTSD Awareness Day and The National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder designated the month of June as PTSD Awareness Month. The National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, continually promotes public awareness and understanding of PTSD.

Related Information:

  1. Intensive Care Diaries Protect Patients from PTSD
  2. Link Between PTSD and Dementia
  3. New VA Regulations Simplify PTSD Claims for Veterans


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