Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, and Treatment

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that may develop when someone experiences a tragic situation. Negative feelings, thoughts, and recollections are common among those who have experienced trauma. Although most people will gradually feel better, some may develop PTSD. In this case, their negative reactions to a particular trauma persist and interfere with their regular lives.


This post will describe PTSD’s definition, symptoms, and other relevant information.

What is PTSD?

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), posttraumatic stress disorder is a mental illness that can strike anyone who has been through or witnessed a traumatic incident, string of events, or combination of circumstances. Examples include terrorism, war, rape or sexual abuse, historical trauma, intimate partner violence, major accidents, natural catastrophes, and bullying.

After the traumatic event has passed, PTSD sufferers withstand intense, uncomfortable feelings, thoughts, and sensations related to their experience. They might relive the incident in nightmares or flashbacks, experience fear, terror, sadness, or rage, and feel estranged or distant from other people. People with PTSD may avoid situations or individuals that remind them of the traumatic event. It can be due to exposure to loud noises or unintentional touches that can cause them to have strong unpleasant reactions.

Prevalence of PTSD

Approximately 6.8% of adults in the United States are estimated to experience PTSD at some point in their life. 13 million Americans had PTSD in 2020. PTSD is more common in women than in men. Around 8 out of 100 women and 4 out of 100 males will suffer from PTSD. For adolescents aged 13 to 18, the lifetime prevalence of PTSD is 8%.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD signs and symptoms can begin as soon as one month after a stressful experience, but they can also take years to manifest. Intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thoughts and attitudes, and changes in bodily and emotional reactions are the four main categories of PTSD symptoms. The severity of symptoms can change over time or from person to person.

Intrusive symptoms● Recurrent upsetting memories of the horrific event;
● Reliving the upsetting experience as though it was going to happen again (flashbacks);
● Disturbing nightmares or dreams involving the horrific occurrence;
● Severe mental discomfort or adverse physical responses e.g heart palpitations, and; sweating, to things that bring back terrible memories.
Avoidance● Attempting to avoid reflecting on or discussing the painful incident;
● Avoiding things, people, places, or situations that make you think of the painful occurrence;
Changes in thoughts and mood● A negative view of yourself, other people, or the world;
● A lack of optimism for the future;
● Memory issues, such as forgetting crucial details of the traumatic incident;
● Difficulty maintaining close relationships;
● Feeling cut off from friends and relatives;
● Lack of interest in activities a person once found enjoyable, trouble feeling positive emotions like happiness;
● Lack of emotional response.
Alterations in physiological and emotional responses● Being prone to be surprised or alarmed;
● Being constantly alert for danger;
● Self-destructive conduct, such as binge drinking or speeding;
● Difficulty sleeping;
● Difficulty concentrating;
● Anger burst, irritability, or violent conduct;
● Overwhelming shame or guilt.


In addition to the above features, an individual may experience high levels of any of the following dissociative symptoms in response to trauma-related stimuli:

  • Depersonalization: Having the sensation of being distant from oneself or feeling like an outside observer (e.g., feeling as if in a dream).
  • Derealization: The feeling of distance, disconnection, or distortion (e.g., “things are not real”).

Nevertheless, if your symptoms started appearing soon after the trauma, you could suffer from acute stress disorder. A person must suffer symptoms of PTSD for at least more than one month following a traumatic event to be diagnosed with it, whereas acute stress disorder lasts 3 to 28 days after a trauma.

Delayed-onset PTSD can happen when symptoms of PTSD appear six months or later after a traumatic event. Some people might not show immediate signs of PTSD but may experience symptoms over time, which can significantly impact their daily life.

What Causes PTSD?

Someone may get PTSD as a result of many different unpleasant or life-threatening circumstances, such as:

  • Observing a brutal death
  • Severe mishaps, like a car accident
  • Sexual or physical abuse
  • Serious medical conditions or receiving intense care
  • Complications during childbirth
  • Receiving a life-threatening disease diagnosis
  • Conflict and warfare
  • Attacks by terrorists
  • Natural or man-made calamities, such as wildfires or tsunamis

There are a few different ways that a person can be exposed to a traumatic event that may lead to PTSD:

  • Directly observing the event or being involved in it.
  • Learning that an adverse event had happened to someone very close.
  • Being repeatedly exposed to traumatic experiences themselves or frequently observing distressing events hurting others.

It’s worth mentioning that experiencing trauma doesn’t always lead to PTSD. 

Risk Factors

A traumatic experience is the cause of PTSD. Nevertheless, researchers are unsure why some people develop PTSD and others do not. There may be several risk factors for PTSD development.

Genetics. Individuals who have anxiety or PTSD in their families may be more prone to developing PTSD themselves.

Age. Your chance of developing PTSD may depend on your life stage at the time of the experience. Young adults may be more vulnerable to developing PTSD because they tend to be more exposed to precipitating situations. Research indicates that the 45-59 years of age group has a higher prevalence of PTSD at 9.2%. However, it is important to note that children can also develop PTSD, especially if they experience or witness a traumatic event.

Gender. PTSD in women is twice as common compared to men.

Having other mental health problems. You may be prone to developing PTSD if you suffer from depression or anxiety disorders.

Personality characteristics. Personality traits associated with PTSD include poor coping mechanisms, neuroticism or introversion, and a pessimistic outlook.

Lack of social support. It can be harder for people to process trauma and manage PTSD symptoms if they lack support. This can worsen negative feelings like loneliness and contribute to the development of PTSD. It can also increase the likelihood of unhealthy coping behaviors, such as substance abuse, that raise the risk of PTSD. 

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Treatment

A treatment that is effective for one person might not be effective for another because everyone is unique, and PTSD affects people differently. A mental health professional with PTSD experience is the ideal professional to contact for treating PTSD. Some sufferers might have to attempt various PTSD treatments before settling on one that effectively manages their symptoms.


People with PTSD can benefit from a variety of psychotherapies. Depending on each patient’s needs, the doctor or therapist may combine various therapies with medicine. PTSD talk therapy sessions typically last 6 to 12 weeks but can go longer. Successful psychotherapies frequently emphasize essential elements, such as symptom education, skills for recognizing symptom triggers, and symptom management techniques.

These are some of the most common PTSD therapies:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive restructuring is a CBT technique that may be helpful for PTSD patients. It aids in making sense of unpleasant memories. People may recall events differently from how they happened or experience shame or regret about something that wasn’t their fault. The therapist assists those with PTSD in viewing what happened realistically.

Exposure therapy. This is a form of behavioral therapy. It aids individuals in facing and managing their fear. It gradually makes them feel safe from the trauma they underwent. It involves either picturing, writing, or going to the location where the incident occurred as well as using other techniques that help a person to get exposed to the traumatic experience in a safe place. The therapist uses these strategies to assist PTSD sufferers in regulating their emotions.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR). During EMDR therapy, a therapist guides the patient through eye movements, taps, or sounds while recalling the traumatic event. This helps access and process the experience and stuck memories reducing PTSD symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety.


Several types of drugs can aid in reducing PTSD symptoms:

Antidepressants: These drugs can help with anxiety and depression symptoms. They can also aid in relieving attention and sleep issues. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted selective serotonin inhibitors (SSRIs) approval for the treatment of PTSD for the drugs paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft).

Anti-anxiety medications: Adults with PTSD and anxiety that keep them from participating in regular, everyday activities may be prescribed anti-anxiety medications. These meds help lessen anxiety symptoms, including panic attacks, extreme worry, and terror. Examples include Xanax (alprazolam) and Klonopin (clonazepam).

Coping Tips

If you have PTSD, there are some things you can do to assist with your treatment:

  • Stick to a routine. You might feel grounded by leading as normal of a life as possible.
  • Speak to someone you can trust. You can process your emotions in a protected manner by speaking to a trusted person. The best option is to see a health professional.
  • Try to relax, try self-guided meditation, deep breathing exercises, and other activities. It would benefit your recovery to concentrate on the notion that you will eventually feel better.
  • Create a safety plan. It’s important to identify negative thoughts and triggers that can worsen symptoms. Develop a plan to manage and challenge negative beliefs, as well as strategies to use when symptoms become severe. The goal of a safety plan is to help you feel more in control and better prepared to manage the challenges of PTSD.

In Conclusion

PTSD is a severe form of anxiety disorder. For posttraumatic stress disorder, there are numerous therapeutic options. The most crucial thing to remember while choosing the best PTSD treatment, medicine, or therapy, is that no two people have the same experience, and treatment typically isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. Your safest choice will be to find a mental health specialist who has experience treating PTSD.

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