Post-traumatic stress disorder is caused by exposure to traumatic events. However, not everyone exposed to trauma goes on to develop PTSD. According to American Family Physician (2003), only 25 to 30 percent of people who experience significant trauma eventually develop the disorder.
Unfortunately, doctors don’t yet have reliable methods for predicting who will develop PTSD. Its symptoms, however, are readily identifiable and fall into one of three major categories: avoidance, hyper-arousal or re-experiencing.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms: Avoidance
Since trauma is such an intense experience, people with PTSD often avoid any places, thoughts or feelings they associate with the traumatic event.
While avoidance can be as straightforward as avoiding the site of the trauma, avoidance symptoms aren’t always obvious or predictable. Avoidance symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder may include:
- Difficulty remembering important aspects of a traumatic event
- Emotional numbness and trouble experiencing positive feelings like happiness and love
- Feeling distant from others, even close friends and family members
- Feeling that you’re doomed and your life will be cut short
- Loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities
- Making an effort to avoid conversations, feelings, people, places or thoughts that remind you of a trauma.
Symptoms of PTSD: Hyper-Arousal
Hyper-arousal symptoms make up the second group of PTSD signs. PTSD symptoms of hyper-arousal include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling “on guard” all the time, as if danger is always present
- Irritability and outbursts of anger
- Jumpiness and startling easily
- Memory blackouts and other memory difficulties
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
Post-Traumatic Disorder Symptoms: Re-Experiencing
In addition to symptoms of avoidance and hyper-arousal, people with PTSD will also re-experience the traumatic event in a variety of ways. These intrusive memories of the trauma may present themselves as:
- Flashbacks (acting or feeling like the event is still happening)
- Frequent and recurring nightmares involving the event or emotions experienced during the event
- Frequent memories and upsetting thoughts about the traumatic event
- Physical responses (such as sweating or a racing heart) when reminded of the trauma
- Strong unpleasant emotions when reminded of the trauma.
Is it PTSD or Acute Stress Disorder?
Acute stress disorder is another condition associated with trauma, with symptoms that are very similar to those of PTSD. Here are some ways your doctor will determine whether you have PTSD or acute stress disorder:
- If your symptoms persist for only two days to four weeks, you may have acute stress disorder.
- If your symptoms persist for longer than a month, you may have PTSD.
- If PTSD symptoms persist for longer than three months, it is generally classified as chronic PTSD.
PTSD symptoms usually appear within a few months of the traumatic event, but they may emerge years later. Whenever your post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms appear, talk to a doctor so she can determine if you have PTSD, and get you the treatment you need.
Grinage, B. (2003). Diagnosis and management of post-traumatic stress disorder. Retrieved July 2, 2010, from: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/1215/p2401.html.
Mayo Clinic. (2009). Post-traumatic stress disorder.Retrieved July 9, 2010, from: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/DS00246.
MedicineNet. (2010). Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Retrieved June 30, 2010, from: http://www.medicinenet.com/posttraumatic_stress_disorder/article.htm.