What is a PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)

by | Aug 7, 2023 | Blogs

Clinically Reviewed By Dr. Dubey Shivam

It’s normal for people to feel scared during and after traumatic events, and usually, they recover on their own. However, if someone’s fear and stress last for more than a month and disrupt their daily life, they might be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD involves different types of symptoms like reliving the trauma, avoiding reminders of it, feeling on edge, and experiencing negative changes in thoughts and feelings. To confirm a PTSD diagnosis, a mental health professional needs to make sure these symptoms aren’t caused by other things like medications or substance abuse.

The symptoms must fit into specific categories and affect the person’s life significantly. While some people get better within six months, others might take longer to heal. Understanding and recognizing these symptoms is necessary to treating and managing PTSD effectively.

Signs and Symptoms

The vast majority of persons who have been traumatized do not go on to acquire continuous (chronic) symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however this is not always the case. The experience of a terrifying ordeal is not a prerequisite for developing PTSD in some people. PTSD may be brought on by a variety of circumstances, including the shocking and unexpected death of a loved one. In most cases, the onset of symptoms is rapid, occurring within the first three months following the traumatic event; but, in other cases, the symptoms may not appear for years. For someone to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), their symptoms must have persisted for at least a month and been severe enough to disrupt their employment or personal relationships. The condition may progress in a variety of ways. Some patients recover completely within six months, while others continue to struggle with symptoms for a much longer period of time. In some cases, the condition lasts for an extended period of time.

A mental health professional who has worked with patients who suffer from mental illness, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, is qualified to diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In order to get a diagnosis of PTSD, an adult patient must exhibit all of the following symptoms for a period of at least one month:

At least one symptom has been experienced again.

At least one avoidance symptom

A minimum of two symptoms related to arousal and reactivity

At least two symptoms related to cognition and mood

Experiencing symptoms again may entail the following:

Reliving the traumatic event again and over, along with the accompanying bodily sensations such as a pounding heart and profuse perspiration.

Sleepless nights

Ideas that give one chills

The reappearance of a person’s symptoms might create disruptions in their normal daily activities. The individual’s own thoughts and emotions may serve as the impetus for the onset of the symptoms. Reliving the traumatic experience may be brought on by anything that brings up memories of it, whether it a word, an item, or a setting.

Avoidance symptoms include:

avoiding locations, events, or things that are reminders of the traumatic experience, such as staying away from goods, places, and events

Trying not to think about or feel anything that is connected to the terrible experience.

A person’s avoidance symptoms may be triggered by things that bring back memories of the traumatic experience. Because of these symptoms, a person may need to make adjustments to their typical daily activities. For instance, a person who typically drives may choose not to drive or ride in cars after being involved in a serious vehicle accident.

Symptoms of arousal and reactivity include the following:

Having a low threshold for shock

Feeling tense or “on edge”

Having trouble falling or staying asleep

Having fits of rage every so often

The symptoms of arousal are often persistent rather than being prompted by items that remind one of the traumatic events that occurred in the past. Because of these symptoms, the individual may have feelings of tension and rage. They have the potential to make day-to-day activities, such as sleeping, eating, or focusing, more challenging.

Symptoms related to cognition and mood include the following:

Having difficulty recalling important aspects of the painful experience

thoughts that are critical of oneself or one’s environment

Distorted sentiments like guilt or blame

a loss of interest in things that were once pleasurable

It is possible for cognition and mood symptoms to begin or worsen in the aftermath of the traumatic incident; however, these symptoms are not the result of an injury or drug use. Because of these symptoms, the individual may have feelings of estrangement or disconnection from their family and friends.

Following a traumatic experience, it is normal to have some of these symptoms for a period of a few weeks. It is possible that the individual is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if the symptoms have persisted for more than a month, are having a significant impact on their ability to function, and are not attributable to substance abuse, a medical condition, or anything else other than the event itself. Some persons who suffer from PTSD don’t exhibit any symptoms for weeks or months after they’ve been diagnosed. Depression, drug addiction, or one or more of the other anxiety disorders are common companions for those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Are adults and children likely to behave in the same way?

Even though children and teenagers might have strong responses to traumatic experiences, some of their symptoms could be different from those experienced by adults. These symptoms may occasionally be detected in very young children (children who are less than six years old), and they include the following:

Having accidents in bed after having acquired the ability to use the restroom

Having lost the ability to speak or not being able to do so

Playing out the terrifying experience during free time

Behaving in an unusually dependent manner toward one’s parents or other adults

It is more probable that older children and teenagers will display symptoms that are comparable to those found in adults. Additionally, they could develop behaviors that are disruptive, disrespectful, or harmful. Children and adolescents who are older may have feelings of remorse because they were unable to avert injuries or fatalities. They can also be harboring ideas of getting their own back.

Risk Factors

PTSD may manifest in people of any age and in any situation. People who fall under this category include those who have survived traumatic experiences such as physical or sexual assault, abuse, accident, or catastrophe, as well as veterans of armed conflicts and children. At some time in their life, around seven or eight out of every one hundred individuals will have an incident that meets the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as determined by the National Center for PTSD. Women have a higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than males do. Additionally, genetics may play a role in certain individuals having a higher risk of developing PTSD than others.

The experience of a terrifying ordeal is not a prerequisite for developing PTSD in some people. After witnessing the threat or suffering of a close friend or member of their family, some individuals go on to acquire PTSD. A loved one’s untimely passing may potentially trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Why do some individuals have PTSD while others don’t, and some still don’t get it at all?

It is essential to keep in mind that not everyone who survives a terrifying experience will go on to acquire post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In point of fact, the condition will not manifest itself in the majority of individuals.

There are a lot of different things that might play a role in whether or not someone will develop PTSD. The following is a list of several examples: The likelihood of a person developing PTSD increases with the presence of risk factors. Other elements, which we refer to as resilience factors, may assist in lowering the likelihood of developing the illness.

The following are some examples of risk factors for post-traumatic stress disorder:

Having to endure perilous situations and traumatic experiences.

sustaining an injury

Observing the suffering of another person or the presence of a dead corpse

A difficult childhood

Having an overwhelming sense of dread, helplessness, or terror

Having little to no social support after the event Coping with additional stress after the incident, such as the death of a loved one, pain and injury, or the loss of a job or house Having little to no social support after the event Having to deal with more stress after the event

a previous diagnosis of a mental disorder or a history of drug misuse

The following are some examples of variables that may help victims recover from traumatic experiences:

Seeking the assistance and support of other people, such as one’s family and friends

Locating and joining a support group in the wake of a terrible experience

Acquiring the ability to confront one’s fears and yet feel good about how one has responded to them

Possessing a healthy coping mechanism, also known as a means to endure adversity and emerge stronger on the other side, is essential.

Being able to successfully act and react while experiencing fear is a necessary skill.

The significance of these and other risk and resilience elements, such as genetics and neurobiology, is now being investigated by researchers. With more study, it could one day be feasible to determine who is at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and take preventative measures.

Anastasiya Palopoli
Written by Anastasiya Palopoli

Anastasiya Palopoli, a board-certified Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, has extensive experience in nursing and psychiatric care, with degrees in Nursing from UCF and Psychiatric Mental Health from the University of Cincinnati. Following a residency in General and Child Psychiatry in Florida, she specializes in treating Dementia, psychosis, depression, and anxiety through holistic approaches. Beyond her professional life, she enjoys hiking, tennis, and traveling with her family.