Trauma

 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.

 

It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm.

 

Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened, even when they are not in danger.

 

While most but not all traumatized people experience short term symptoms, the majority do not develop ongoing (chronic) PTSD. Not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous event. Some experiences, like the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one, can also cause PTSD. Symptoms usually begin early, within 3 months of the traumatic incident, but sometimes they begin years afterward. Symptoms must last more than a month and be severe enough to interfere with relationships or work to be considered PTSD. The course of the illness varies. Some people recover within 6 months, while others have symptoms that last much longer. In some people, the condition becomes chronic.

 

To be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must have all of the following for at least 1 month:

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom

  • At least one avoidance symptom

  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms

  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms

 

Re-experiencing symptoms include:

  • Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating

  • Bad dreams

  • Frightening thoughts

 

Avoidance symptoms include:

  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience

  • Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event

 

Arousal and reactivity symptoms include:

  • Being easily startled

  • Feeling tense or “on edge”

  • Having difficulty sleeping

  • Having angry outbursts

 

Cognition and mood symptoms include:

  • Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event

  • Negative thoughts about oneself or the world

  • Distorted feelings like guilt or blame

  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities