Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an extremely debilitating condition that can occur after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm was threatened or occurred.

Traumatic events that can trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults such as rape or mugging, natural or manmade disasters, car accidents, or military combat.

Most people with PTSD try to avoid any reminders or thoughts of the ordeal.

Despite this avoidant behavior, many people with PTSD repeatedly re-experience the ordeal in the form of flashback episodes, memories, nightmares, or frightening thoughts, especially when they are exposed to events or objects reminiscent of the trauma.

Symptoms of PTSD also include emotional numbness and sleep disturbances (including insomnia), depression, and irritability or outbursts of anger. Feelings of intense guilt are also common. PTSD is diagnosed only if these symptoms last more than one month.

Fortunately, through research supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), effective treatments have been developed to help people with PTSD.

How Common Is PTSD?

About 4% of the population will experience symptoms of PTSD in a given year.

When Does PTSD Strike?

PTSD can develop at any age, including childhood.

Symptoms of PTSD typically begin within 3 months following a traumatic event, although occasionally symptoms do not begin until years later. Once PTSD develops, the duration of the illness varies. Some people recover within 6 months while others may suffer much longer.

What Treatments Are Available for PTSD?

Treatment for PTSD includes cognitive-behavioral therapy, group psychotherapy, and medications (including antidepressants).

Various forms of exposure therapy (such as systemic desensitization and imaginal flooding) have all been used with PTSD patients. Exposure treatment for PTSD involves repeated reliving of the trauma, under controlled conditions, with the aim of facilitating the processing of the trauma.

Can People with PTSD Also Have Other Physical or Emotional Illnesses?

People with PTSD can also have other psychological difficulties, particularly depression, substance abuse, or another anxiety disorder. The likelihood of treatment success is increased when these other conditions are appropriately diagnosed and treated, as well.