What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after you have been through a traumatic event.
A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that you see or that happens
to you. During this type of event, you think that your life or others' lives
are in danger. You may feel afraid or feel that you have no control over what
Anyone who has gone through a life-threatening
event can develop PTSD. These events can include:
- Military sexual trauma.
- Physical violence.
- Sexual violence, such as rape.
- Serious accidents, such as a car wreck.
disasters, such as a fire, tornado, flood, or earthquake.
After the event, you may feel scared, confused, and
angry. If these feelings don't go away or they get worse, you may have PTSD.
These symptoms may disrupt your life, making it hard to continue with your
What are the symptoms?
After going through a
traumatic event, you may:
- Feel upset by things that remind you of what
- Have nightmares, vivid memories, or flashbacks of the
event. You may feel like it's happening all over again.
places or things that remind you of what happened.
- Feel numb or
lose interest in things you used to care about.
- Feel that you are
always in danger.
- Feel anxious, jittery, or irritated.
- Have trouble sleeping or keeping your mind on one thing.
PTSD symptoms can change your behavior and how you live
your life. You may pull away from other people, work all the time, or
use drugs or alcohol. You may find it hard to be in
relationships, and you may have problems with your spouse and family. You may
depressed. Some people with PTSD also have
panic attacks, which are sudden feelings of fear or
worry that something bad is about to happen.
Children can have
PTSD too. They may have the symptoms above and symptoms that depend on how old
they are. As children get older their symptoms are more like those of
- Young children may become upset if their
parents are not close by. Or children may have trouble sleeping or suddenly have trouble with
toilet training or going to the bathroom.
- Children who are in the first few years of elementary school
(ages 6 to 9) may act out the trauma through play, drawings, or stories. They
may complain of physical problems or become more irritable or aggressive. They
also may develop fears and anxiety that don't seem to be caused by the
What can you do if you think you have PTSD?
If you think
you have PTSD, it's important to get treatment. Treatment can work, and early
treatment may help reduce long-term symptoms.1, 2
If you think you have PTSD:
- Talk to your family doctor.
to a mental health professional, such as a therapist.
- If you're a
veteran, contact your local VA hospital or Vet Center.
- Talk to a
close friend or family member. He or she may be able to support you and find
- Talk to a religious leader.
- Fill out this form (What is a PDF document?) and take it with you to the doctor.
If you have thoughts about hurting yourself or someone else, call 911, 1-800-273-TALK (suicide hotline), or go to a hospital emergency room.
How does PTSD develop?
All people with PTSD have
personally experienced—or have experienced through others—a traumatic event that caused them to fear for their lives, see
horrible things, and feel helpless. Strong emotions caused by the event create
changes in the brain that may result in PTSD.3
Many people who go through a traumatic event don't get PTSD. It isn't
clear why some people develop PTSD and others don't. How likely you are to get
PTSD depends on many things. These include:
- How intense the trauma was.
you lost a loved one or were hurt.
- How close you were to the
- How strong your reaction was.
- How much you felt
in control of events.
- How much help and support you got after the
PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic
event, but they may not happen until months or years later. They also may come
and go over many years. About half of people who develop PTSD get
better at some time. But other people who
develop PTSD always will have some symptoms.4
If you have symptoms of PTSD, counseling can help you cope. Your symptoms
don't have to interfere with your everyday activities, work, and relationships.
It is never too late to get professional help or other forms of support that
can help you manage the symptoms of PTSD.
anniversaries of the event can make symptoms worse.
How is PTSD treated?
The most effective treatments
for PTSD are:5, 6
- Counseling, which can help you understand your thoughts
and learn ways to cope with your feelings. This can help you feel more in
control and get you back to the activities in your life. A type of counseling
called cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to be the most effective
form of counseling for PTSD.1, 2
- Antidepressant medicines,
especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These can help you
feel less sad and worried. SSRIs include fluoxetine (such
as Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft).
You may need to try different types of treatment before
finding the one that helps you. Your doctor will help you with this. These
treatments may include other types of medicines and other forms of counseling,
group counseling. If you have other problems along
with PTSD, such as overuse of alcohol or drugs, you may need treatment for
Treatment can help you feel more in control of your
emotions, have fewer symptoms, and enjoy life again.
One Man's Story:
"I can't turn my brain off.
Sometimes I stay up all night. The bad part is not staying up, but what's going
through my head. I can't stop it."—Marvin
Read more about Marvin.