Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Definition, Causes and Symptoms

The disorder stress posttraumatic is a serious condition that can develop after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or terrifying event in which serious physical harm occurred or was threatened. It is a long-lasting consequence of traumatic ordeals that cause intense fear, helplessness, or horror, such as sexual or physical abuse, the unexpected death of a loved one, an accident, war, or natural disaster.

Most people who experience trauma will have reactions that can include shock, anger, nervousness, fear, and even guilt. These reactions are common, and for most they disappear over time. For a person with PTSD, these feelings continue and even increase, becoming so strong that they prevent them from leading a normal life, they have symptoms for more than a month, and they cannot function as well as before the event occurred.

Another definition is that it is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, scary or distressing events, someone with this problem often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks.

Symptoms of PTSD

Symptoms usually begin early, within 3 months of the traumatic incident, but sometimes begin years later, must last for more than a month, and be severe enough to interfere with relationships or work to be considered post-traumatic stress disorder. The course of the disease varies, some people recover within 6 months, while others have symptoms that last much longer, which can cause the condition to become chronic.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Symptoms of reexperimentation

  • Flashbacks: Reliving the trauma over and over again, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating.
  • Bad dreams (nightmares).
  • Terrifying thoughts.

Re-experiencing symptoms can cause problems in a person’s daily routine as they can start from the person’s own thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger new symptoms.

Avoidance symptoms

  • Stay away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience.
  • Avoid thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event.

Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms, these can cause a person to change their personal routine. For example, after a car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.

Emotional symptoms

  • Nervousness
  • Difficulty to sleep.
  • Anger.

They are usually constant, they can make the person feel stressed and angry, having difficulty doing daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating or concentrating.

Cognitive symptoms

  • Trouble remembering the key features of the traumatic event
  • Negative thoughts about yourself or the world.
  • Distorted feelings like guilt.
  • Loss of interest in fun activities.

Cognition and mood symptoms may begin or worsen after trauma, but are not due to injury or substance use, these can make the person feel alienated or separated from friends or family.

Causes of PTSD

The type of events that can cause it include:

  • Serious traffic accidents
  • Violent personal assaults.
  • Prolonged sexual abuseviolence, or gross neglect.
  • Witness violent deaths.
  • Military combat.
  • Being hostage.
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Natural disasters, such as severe floods, earthquakes, or tsunamis

It can develop immediately after someone experiences a disturbing event or it can occur weeks, months, or even years later. It is estimated to affect about 1 in 3 people who have a traumatic experience, but it is not clear exactly why some people develop the condition and others not.

How is PTSD diagnosed?

It is not diagnosed until at least a month has passed from the time a traumatic event occurred, if there are symptoms, the doctor will begin an evaluation using a complete medical history and physical examination, although there are no laboratory tests to specifically diagnose it, the doctor may use various tests to rule out a physical illness as the cause of the symptoms.

If no physical illness is found, you may be referred to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional who is specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illness. Psychiatrists and psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a person for the presence of PTSD or other psychiatric conditions. The doctor bases his diagnosis on the symptoms reported, including any problems with functioning caused by the symptoms, then determines if the symptoms and the degree of dysfunction indicate that it is this disorder.

Treatments and therapies

The main treatments are medications, psychotherapy, or both, we are all different, and PTSD affects people differently, so a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. It is important for anyone to be treated by an experienced mental health provider.

If someone is going through ongoing trauma, such as being in an abusive relationship, both issues need to be addressed. Other current problems can include panic disorder, depressionsubstance abuse, and suicidal feelings.


The most studied medications include antidepressants, which can help control symptoms like sadness, worry, anger, and feelings of numbness inside. Antidepressants and other medications can be prescribed along with psychotherapy, other medications can be helpful for specific symptoms.

Doctors and patients can work together to find the best combination of medications as well as the correct dosage.


It involves talking to a mental health professional to treat a mental illness, it can occur individually or in a group. Talk therapy treatment usually lasts 6 to 12 weeks, but can last longer. Research shows that support from family and friends can be an important part of recovery.

Many types of psychotherapy can help people, some types focus directly on symptoms, other therapies focus on social, family, or work-related problems. The doctor or therapist can combine different therapies depending on the needs of each person.

The psychotherapies effective tend to emphasize some key components, including education about symptoms, teaching skills to help identify triggers and skills to handle them . One helpful form of therapy is called cognitive behavioral therapy, which can include:

  • Exposure therapy. This helps people to face and control their fear, gradually exposing them to the trauma they experienced in a safe way, it is done by imagining, writing or visiting the place where the event happened. The therapist uses these tools to help people cope with their feelings.
  • Cognitive restructuring. This helps people make sense of bad memories, sometimes they remember the event differently than how it happened, they may feel guilty or ashamed for something that is not their fault. The therapist helps them see what happened realistically.

There are other types of treatment that can help as well. Treatment should equip people with the skills to manage their symptoms and help them participate in the activities they enjoyed before developing PTSD.

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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.

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