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Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a very specific psychiatric disorder that usually occurs after someone has exerienced or witnessed some life-threatening events.

These events may include:

  • military combat
  • natural disasters
  • terrorist incidents
  • serious accidents
  • violent personal assaults like rape
  • child abuse
  • sexual molestation

Most of the people who experienced these things can return to normal life after a while, but some people develop a serious stress reaction disorder that, not only will not go away on its own, but may even get worse over time. What are the main characteristics of this disorder? PTSD is marked by clear biological changes as well as psychological symptoms. Not only that, but PTSD frequently occurs with related disorders such as depression, substance abuse, problems of memory and cognition, and other problems of physical and mental health. 


It is estimated that 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD.

Research says that about 3.6 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 to 54 have PTSD during the course of a given year. 
About 30 percent of the men and women who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD. An additional 20 to 25 percent have had partial PTSD at some point in their lives. Some 88% of men and 79% of women with PTSD also have another psychiatric disorder. Nearly half of them suffer from major depression, 16% from anxiety disorders, and 28% from social phobia.

Symptoms of PTSD

Symptoms of this disorder can be divided into two groups: the primary symptoms and additional symptoms that may but not necessarily accompany this syndrome.
The primary symptoms of PTSD are:


  • Recurring and disturbing memories of the event,
  • Distressing dreams of the event,
  • Feeling of re-experiencing the event itself, such as illusions, hallucinations,
  • An intense fear during exposure to events that could resemble the past traumatic event


This is a very common mechanism in which, the individual attempts to avoid situations which are associated with the trauma


The affected individual has problems with feelings of increased arousal or vigilance that were not present before the trauma:

  • Difficulty with sleep
  • Intense irritability and angry outbursts
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • An over-exaggerated startle response when surprised
  • Signs of increased panic and stress response, such as rapid breathing, higher heart rate, sweating etc.


The affected person has a sudden, usually vivid, recollection of the events that caused this disorder in first place.
These are usually thought of in connection with combat veterans in war.
Other symptoms that could occur months or even years after the original trauma may include the following:

  • amnesia, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate
  • panic attacks
  • obsession - the experience takes over your life
  • feelings of nervousness and anxiety and fear
  • depression and avoidance behavior
  • excessive shame, embarrassment or guilt
  • emotional numbness or detachment
  • lack of motivation

Children with PTSD may also show the following symptoms:

  • losing interest in activities
  • having physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches
  • showing more sudden and extreme emotional reactions
  • having problems falling or staying asleep                  
  • acting younger than their age
  • showing increased alertness to the environment

Cause of PTSD

When a person is afraid, the body activates the stress response - it releases adrenaline, which is responsible for increasing blood pressure and heart rate and releasing glucose to muscles. Once the danger is gone, the body begins a process of shutting down the stress response, and this process involves the release of another hormone known as cortisol. If body does not generate enough cortisol to shut down the flight or stress reaction, person may continue to feel the stress effects of the adrenaline. That is considered the primary mechanism of PTSD because after a month in this heightened state, with stress hormones elevated, person may develop further physical changes, such as heightened hearing. 

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