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Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops after a terrifying experience that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. PTSD patients may be the person who was harmed, loved one of a person who was harmed, or even a witness to a harmful event that happened to another person. Although most often discussed in relation to war veterans, PTSD can result from a variety of traumatic incidents, such as mugging; sexual assault; torture; being kidnapped or held captive; child abuse; car, train, or airplane accidents; bombings; or natural disasters.

Persons with PTSD may startle easily, become emotionally numb (especially in relation to people with whom they used to be close), lose interest in things they used to enjoy, have trouble feeling affectionate, be irritable, or become aggressive or even violent. They avoid situations that remind them of the original incident, and anniversaries of the incident are often very difficult. PTSD symptoms seem to be worse if the original event was initiated deliberately, as in a mugging or a kidnapping. [NIMH Anxiety Booklet, 2012]

PTSD patients repeatedly relive the trauma mentally during the day and in nightmares when sleeping—episodes known as flashbacks. Flashbacks can be triggered by ordinary occurrences, such as a door slamming or a car backfiring, and a flashback may cause the person to lose touch with reality and believe that the traumatic incident is happening again.

Not every traumatized person develops PTSD. For those who do, symptoms typically begin within 3 months after the incident but occasionally not until years after, and they must last > 1 month to be considered PTSD. The course of PTSD is variable—some people recover within 6 months, whereas others experience symptoms for much longer, with the potential to become chronic.

PTSD affects approximately 7.7 million American adults, [Kessler 2005]
It can occur at any age, including childhood. [Margolin 2000] Women have a higher risk of developing PTSD than men, [Davidson 2000] and susceptibility to PTSD may have a genetic component. [Yehuda 1999] PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or ≥ 1 other anxiety disorders. [Regier 1998]

Appropriate medication and psychotherapy are usually very effective in treating the symptoms of PTSD.

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