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soldier with PTSD

Symptoms & Signs of PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop in people who live through traumatic or distressing events. While some people experience an acute response lasting a few days or weeks, other’s response is longer and more impactful, leading to PTSD.

How Trauma Leads to PTSD

Trauma is a psychological response to a stressful event or situation. Traumatic events cause intense emotional suffering that can linger long past the event itself. Some examples of traumatic events that can trigger PTSD include:

  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Living through a natural disaster
  • Living in a war zone
  • Being emotionally or physically neglected or abused
  • Being a victim of domestic violence
  • Being involved in military combat
  • Witnessing a traumatic event

The Four Categories of PTSD Symptoms

The symptoms of PTSD are categorized in four different ways. These categories—and their symptoms—relate to ways in which people suffering from PTSD try to protect themselves from further trauma.

It’s common to have some of these symptoms after living through a traumatic event. For most people, the symptoms fade after a few days or weeks. For some, however, the symptoms persist and may even intensify over time. Depending on the length and pattern of symptoms, this may result in a PTSD diagnosis.

Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms

Normally, the body’s fight-or-flight response activates in times of stress. In people with PTSD, this response activates much more easily.

PTSD symptoms in this category include:

  • Hypervigilance, a state in which someone is constantly on the lookout for danger, and often overreacts to loud noises and other startling sensations
  • Emotional outbursts, especially of anger
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Insomnia and/or other sleep disturbances
  • Feelings of tension or edginess that never seem to go away
  • Separation anxiety

Memories or thoughts about the event can trigger symptoms. They can cause anger, stress and exhaustion.

Avoidance Symptoms

People with PTSD tend to avoid thinking about the trauma they experienced. This may mean they:

  • Avoid places, people or things that are related in some way to the trauma or that trigger memories of the trauma
  • Avoid feelings and thoughts that trigger memories of the event

Avoidance symptoms affect someone’s daily routine or overall quality of life. For instance, if someone is present at a gas station robbery, they might avoid the place where it happened. Someone who is involved in a car accident might avoid driving or being in a car at all.

Cognition and Mood Symptoms

Cognition and mood symptoms include changes in thoughts, beliefs and emotions that have a negative impact on your overall outlook of life. These thoughts may make you feel isolated from family and friends.

Some examples of cognition and mood symptoms include:

  • Inability to take pleasure in activities that you once enjoyed
  • Inability to experience or express positive emotions
  • Having negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world in general
  • Distortion of feelings such as blame, shame or guilt
  • Difficulty remembering the events that triggered the trauma

Re-Experiencing Symptoms

PTSD sufferers may relive the traumatic event that first triggered their PTSD. “Re-living” can take different forms, such as:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks, which may trigger physical symptoms such as sweating, shaking or a rapid heart rate
  • Frightening and/or intrusive thoughts about the event

These symptoms are often triggered by the person’s own thoughts and emotions. In other cases, words, people, places, objects or situations can also activate symptoms.

Other Symptoms of PTSD

People with PTSD can experience a range of other symptoms, including:

  • Tension headaches
  • Digestive problems
  • Chronic pain
  • Anxiety and/or panic attacks

People with PTSD may also develop co-occurring disorders such as anxiety and depression, alcohol or drug abuse or addiction or eating disorders.

PTSD Diagnosis

It’s normal to have emotional or physical symptoms after experiencing a traumatic event. If the symptoms last for more than a few weeks, it may be an indication of PTSD.

Someone may be diagnosed with PTSD if they have:

  • 1 or more symptoms in the avoidance category
  • 1 or more symptoms in the re-experiencing category
  • 2 or more symptoms in the arousal category
  • 2 or more symptoms in the cognition and mood category
  • Symptoms that have lasted 1 month or more

Treatment Options for PTSD

PTSD is typically treated with therapy, medication or a combination of both.

Therapy

There are several kinds of talk therapy that can be helpful for those suffering from PTSD. Many people also benefit from attending post-traumatic stress disorder support groups. Therapy options for PTSD include:

  • Cognitive restructuring: People with PTSD often have distorted or incomplete memories about the trauma they lived through. In this kind of therapy, the therapist helps you make sense of your memories.
  • Exposure therapy: Fear of the trauma underlies of many of the symptoms of PTSD. Exposure therapy helps you face your fears and work on making them more manageable.

Medication

The most common class of medication prescribed for PTSD is antidepressants. These are prescribed to help manage feelings such as sadness, anxiety and anger common in stress disorders.

Other medications may be prescribed to treat specific mental health symptoms of PTSD. For instance, a drug called Prazosin is sometimes prescribed to treat nightmares and sleep disturbances.

Get Help for PTSD with Promises Treatment Centers

Having PTSD can make you feel isolated, afraid and hopeless. But you don’t have to feel that way forever. Getting treatment can help you deal with your trauma and start living life more fully.

Promises Treatment Centers offers residential and outpatient treatment for people suffering from PTSD, including people with co-occurring disorders. Our compassionate and experienced mental health professionals can help you start down the road to recovery.

If you’re living with PTSD, or you know someone who is, don’t wait to seek help. Promises Treatment Centers offer evidence-based and alternative treatments that may be able to help you move forward with your life.

Posted on September 23, 2016 and modified on May 28, 2019

Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

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