What causes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is caused by a recurring memory of a traumatic event, such as combat, an assault, and natural or man-made disasters, that was either experienced or witnessed. Researchers believe that PTSD is caused by a combination of factors. Your ability to handle depression, stress, and the amount of trauma you feel in your life are some factors. Other causes of PTSD can be associated with your brain chemistry and temperament.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the very few psychiatric conditions that is caused by external events, rather than genetics or brain chemistry. Experiencing or witnessing violent, dangerous, upsetting events is a shock to your system, and research suggests the strong emotions that result can create actual biological changes in the brain. A traumatic event triggers the “fight or flight” reaction in your body, which releases adrenaline to raise your blood pressure and heart rate. After the danger is gone, your body produces cortisol to shut down the stress reaction. For some people, the body does not produce enough cortisol to reduce the amount of adrenaline in their system. The stress hormones stay elevated. Remaining in this heightened state of awareness may even lead to other physical changes, such as a keener sense of hearing. No one knows for certain why some people develop PTSD in response to trauma, while others do not. In any case, it is believed that early treatment is key to diminishing the symptoms and perhaps heading off long-term effects on the brain.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often is associated with people who deal with high-stress situations, such as emergency medical technicians, firefighters, police officers, or soldiers. But every person has the potential to be struck by this debilitating anxiety disorder. The loss of a family member, severe injury, losing your job or your home -- these are just some circumstances that put you at greater risk for PTSD. Between 8% to10% of Americans will experience post-traumatic stress disorder at some point during their lifetimes; women are twice as likely to experience PTSD than men.

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Katherine Lee
Social Work
PTSD is caused by being exposed to some kind of traumatic event that has threat of harm or death or actual death and helplessness.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.