What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers.

PTSD was first brought to public attention in relation to war veterans, but it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents, such as mugging, rape, torture, being kidnapped or held captive, child abuse, car accidents, train wrecks, plane crashes, bombings, or natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes.

People with PTSD may startle easily, become emotionally numb (especially in relation to people with whom they used to be close), lose interest in things they used to enjoy, have trouble feeling affectionate, be irritable, become more aggressive, or even become violent. They avoid situations that remind them of the original incident, and anniversaries of the incident are often very difficult. PTSD symptoms seem to be worse if the event that triggered them was deliberately initiated by another person, as in a mugging or a kidnapping.

Most people with PTSD repeatedly relive the trauma in their thoughts during the day and in nightmares when they sleep. These are called flashbacks. Flashbacks may consist of images, sounds, smells, or feelings, and are often triggered by ordinary occurrences, such as a door slamming or a car backfiring on the street. A person having a flashback may lose touch with reality and believe that the traumatic incident is happening all over again.

Certain kinds of medication and certain kinds of psychotherapy usually treat the symptoms of PTSD very effectively.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that is a reaction to a traumatic event. Suffering through or witnessing the event causes symptoms of fear, terror, and powerlessness. Avoiding situations or thoughts that are a reminder of the trauma is common. Conversations and activities that could trigger a memory are also avoided.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric condition that can occur when you have lived through or witnessed a violent, life-threatening event. Veterans who have had traumatic combat experiences, such as seeing their comrades killed, may suffer the emotional effects long afterwards. PTSD can cause you to re-live the trauma through flashbacks, keep you edgy and anxious, and make you feel detached or estranged from those around you. It is a real illness and can occur in civilians who have experienced trauma as well.
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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PTSD is a serious disorder where, after some type of traumatic event (combat, natural disaster, abuse, etc.) involving the threat of injury or death, the person can suffer from a debilitating anxiety disorder that involves:

• a heightened sense of awareness (for example insomnia)
• reliving the event (for example nightmares)
• avoidance of things that remind them of the event (for example the bedroom)
• guilt about their survival

Katherine Lee
Social Work
PTSD is a form of anxiety disorder that occurs after being exposed to some kind of traumatic event that has threat of harm or death or actual death and helplessness. Person with PTSD usually re-experiences the traumatic event or events in some way, gets easily triggered with what is perceived to be the “flashbacks” of certain memories, tend to avoid places, people, or other things that remind them of the event (avoidance), and are extremely sensitive to normal life experiences (hyperarousal).
Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Medicine
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder that can occur after living through or seeing a dangerous event. It can also occur after a sudden traumatic event. This can include:
  • Being a victim of or seeing violence
  • Being a victim of sexual or physical abuse or assault
  • The death or serious illness of a loved one
  • Fighting in a war
  • A severe car crash or a plane crash
  • Hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires
The American Psychiatric Association now classifies PTSD as one of the Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders.

This answer is based on source information from the National Women's Health Information Center.

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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.