Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms and Causes

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
August 21, 2018

After a shocking event, some people don’t completely recover. Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms that last longer than a month require treatment.

Fear triggers a host of changes in your body within seconds. In some people, that fear lingers after a shocking event is over and interferes with their lives.

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and causes

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms may become apparent years later, though usually they arrive within three months. The cause is trauma, a shocking experience. You don’t need to be a veteran or lose your home in a tornado to have PTSD. The event might be as ordinary — but painful — as a car accident that kills someone you love or even a concussion on a football field.


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To diagnose PTSD, a mental health expert looks for certain signs lasting at least a month. The tell-tale sign is re-experiencing the trauma in some way, with flashbacks, bad dreams, or fearful thoughts.

People with PTSD change their behavior to avoid reminders of the trauma. A mother who lost a son might avoid driving by his school or seeing his friends on the street.

Psychiatrists also look for evidence that your emotional state has become more unsettled, even without reminders. You might be jumpy, fly into rages, or develop insomnia.

PTSD affects your ability to think and your mood. You might blank out on details of the trauma. You might seem depressed, guilty, or ashamed or detached from friends and family and your usual pleasures.

It’s normal to see some of these post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms after a trauma. In a study of athletes who had suffered a concussion, nearly 26 percent had difficulty sleeping afterwards, and more than 19 percent confessed to avoiding similar situations. Nearly 18 percent checked off having trouble keeping thoughts of incident out of your head. Nearly 13 percent reported flashbacks and 8 percent nightmares.

In acute stress disorder, symptoms like these are serious but go away within a month. If they last longer and affect your ability to function — and can’t be explained by substance abuse or another cause — you might have PTSD.

Even in areas that endure a disaster, most people do not develop PTSD. You’re more vulnerable if, like veterans, you see a dead body, see other people hurt, or suffer an injury. Other risk factors are a history of mental illness or substance abuse or trauma as a child. An increase in stress after the event — for example, if you lose your home or face financial problems after losing a spouse — can trigger PTSD.

A child under the age of six with PTSD might wet the bed even after being toilet-trained, lose the ability to talk, become unusually clingy, or act out the event during playtime. Older children and teens are likely to have the adult symptoms and may also start acting out.

Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment

You can protect yourself by seeking support, drawing lessons from the event, and feeling good about how you respond to the challenge.

The main treatments for PTSD are medications and talk therapy, ideally with someone who understands PTSD, and for at least six weeks. You’ll need to learn how to identify triggers and ways to manage anger or relax. You may also need to address other issues like abusive relationships or bad habits that existed before the trauma but are making it more difficult to recover.

Antidepressants can help PTSD symptoms. Although not currently approved for this purpose, Prazosin may be helpful with sleep problems linked to PTSD.

In therapy, you might be urged to face your fear by imagining the event or returning to the place where it occurred. You might remember the event inaccurately or feel inappropriate shame or guilt.

You’ll help yourself recover by taking steps to live more healthily in general: exercise, set and meet realistic goals, and spend time with people who care about you.


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April 01, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN