What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder. It generally develops after having gone through, or been exposed to, a frightening situation. Usually, physical harm either occurred or there were threats made. Some examples of traumatic events that might trigger PTSD include:

  • Personal physical assault

  • Sexual assault

  • Natural disasters

  • Man-made disasters

  • Witnessing a violent crime

  • Accidents

  • Military Combat

Going through any of these situations can cause fear and stress. For some people, these feelings continue, even after they are safe. When someone has PTSD, the normal fight-or-flight reaction may occur at any time, rather than just in times of danger.

Symptoms of PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD can be varied, depending on the individual. Some may experience some symptoms more frequently or more intensely than other symptoms. There are, however, some common symptoms:

Reliving the Event

Many people with PTSD will relive the event, either through flashbacks or nightmares (or both). Frequently, they will relive not only the memory of the trauma but the symptoms of fear and the physical symptoms of fear as well. Their heart may race, they may experience sweating or having difficulty breathing. Triggers for a PTSD episode can be just about anything but some common triggers include:

  • Thinking about the event

  • A word or object that reminds us of the event

  • A feeling similar to one felt during the trauma

This can occur at any time and can interfere with a person's daily activities.


Many people with PTSD will avoid any reminders of the traumatic event or situation, sometimes to the point of rearranging their schedule, quitting their job or moving to another location. The reminder may become much too powerful emotionally to be around.

Some people may also become emotionally numb, closing themselves off from any emotional feelings because the emotions from the event may be too close to the surface and they are afraid that if they allow themselves to feel anything, they will not be able to handle the strong feelings.

People with PTSD may struggle with feelings of guilt. They may develop depression symptoms, such as not going places or losing interest in activities. They may begin to chronically worry.

Hyperarousal symptoms

There are some symptoms of PTSD that do not necessarily need a trigger. They may become chronic and always present. Some examples are:

  • May find they are easily startled.

  • Problems with sleeping, may have difficulty falling asleep, may wake too early or wake up throughout the night.

  • May have angry or emotional outbursts, which are inappropriate to the situation

These types of symptoms may be severe enough to interfere with daily life. These types of symptoms are common for a short period after any traumatic event, but generally will disappear after a few weeks. In PTSD, they do not go away and may remain for months or years after the event.


Treatment for PTSD generally includes a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Because each person reacts differently, treatment should be tailored to a person's specific needs. It is important, though, to have a medical professional that is familiar with PTSD and understands the unique needs of each patient.

Coexisting conditions, such as panic disorder, depression or substance abuse should be addressed in treatment. Sometimes other problems, such as ongoing abuse need to be addressed and resolved before therapy can be effective.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.