Frequently Asked Questions About Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Health Writer

What is PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that develops after experiencing or seeing a traumatic event. This can be a personal experience, such as going through combat, being sexually or physically abused or assaulted, being in or witnessing a serious accident or going through a natural disaster such as a hurricane, fire, tornado or earthquake.
Many people, when faced with one of these situations, feels angry, scared and confused. Often, these feelings disappear or diminish as time goes on, however, for some people, these feelings continue or get worse. The feelings may, at times, make it difficult for you to work or go through your daily activities.

What other factors contribute to a person developing PTSD?

While going through a traumatic event is the trigger for developing PTSD, certain people may be at a higher risk of developing it. According to Dr. Harold Cohen, "some individuals appear to be more vulnerable to PTSD. It is possible that underlying differences in makeup of a person's personality or brain physiology may contribute to the onset of PTSD." [PTSD, 2006, Dr. Harold Cohen, PsychCentral] Children experiencing traumatic events over a long period of time have a higher chance of developing PTSD. Social support, such as family and friends providing emotional support through a crisis, also impacts PTSD, those without such supports may be at a higher risk. Finally, the severity and the intensity of the event are also a factor. Those who experience ta greater sense of danger or fear are more likely to develop PTSD.

How common is PTSD?

Almost 8 percent of all Americans will experience some level of PTSD during their lifetime, according to Women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD. Approximately 30 percent of all people experiencing PTSD will develop chronic symptoms that continue throughout out their lifetime.

How is PTSD evaluated?

If you believe you, or someone you know, has PTSD, the first step is to make an appointment with a mental health professional. An evaluation can take anywhere from one hour to several hours. During this time you will be asked questions about the event or events that have occurred and what symptoms you are experiencing. The mental health professional will want to understand how you are reacting to the traumatic event and how these symptoms interfere with your life. He or she may ask to speak with your spouse, parents or guardians for additional information. You may also be given tests to determine physical reactions to reminders about your trauma. You may be given a self-report questionnaire to complete; you will answer a series of questions about your symptoms, the severity and frequency of your symptoms and how they interfere with your life. Or
Evaluations may be different based on the education and experience of your mental health provider but he should be able to provide you with information on what will be included in the evaluation beforehand.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Symptoms of PTSD often occur within days or weeks of a traumatic event but in some cases do not appear for months or years later. Chronic PTSD usually has a period of intense symptoms followed by a remission or a period of mild symptoms but some sufferers have continuous, sever symptoms.  There are four main types of PTSD symptoms:

Re-experiencing or Reliving the Event
You feel as if you are going through the event again, memories are vivid and can occur while awake or asleep. You experience the same fear and horror as you did during the actual avent. This is sometimes caused by a trigger, or a reminder of the event or can occur for no apparent reason. These types of memories are also called flashbacks.

You try to avoid any and all situations which remind you of the event, including avoiding family and friends if they were involved or seeing them causes you to have flashbacks. If it was a natural disaster you may avoid watching news, movies or television shows that have the same disaster in them. You may avoid driving if you were in or witnessed a terrible car accident.

You may avoid intense emotional reactions by shutting your emotions off. You may not feel fear but also may not feel happiness or joy. You may stay away from relationships or distance yourself emotionally from your family or friends. You may feel that being numb is better than feeling fear.

You may not be able to stop feeling nervous or jittery. You may jump at every sound and always be on "high alert." You may have trouble sleeping and concentrating and feel irritable much of the time.

What treatments are available for PTSD?

The most effective type of treatment for PTSD is cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of therapy works to change your thought process and reaction to an event or situation. It can also include exposure therapy, where you are slowly exposed to a situation until you feel comfortable. Medications, such as antidepressants are sometimes used to reduce symptoms and to lessen feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.


"Frequently Asked Questions about PTSD," 2006, Harold Cohen, PsychCentral

"How is PTSD Measured?" 2007, Jan 1, Staff Writer, National Center for PTSD

"What is PTSD?" 2007, Jan 1, Staff Writer, National Center for PTSD