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For most people, PTSD starts within about 3 months of the traumatic event. For some people, signs of PTSD don't show up until years later. PTSD can happen to anyone at any age. Even children can have it. Some people get better within 6 months, while others may have the disorder for much longer. Symptoms of PTSD may vary in frequency and intensity over time, and may fall into 3 categories:

  • Re-experiencing the event:
    • Dreams or nightmares
    • Intrusive memories
    • Flashbacks
    • Anxious reactions to reminders of the event
  • Avoidance:
    • Avoidance of external reminders of the event, such as places, situations, or people that can trigger memories
    • Efforts to avoid feelings, thoughts, memories related to the event
  • Negative changes in mood and cognition related to trauma including detachment, numbness, , difficulties remembering relevant details of the trauma
  • Arousal:
    • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
    • Anger and irritability
    • Difficulty concentrating or maintaining attention
    • Being easily startled
    • Hypervigilance

Physical symptoms may also occur such as:

  • Impaired memory
  • Stomach and digestive problems
  • Rapid breathing or heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Immune system problems

People with PTSD may also abuse alcohol or drugs.

References:

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). American Psychiatric Association; 2013.

PTSD basics. National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder website. Available at: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/basics/index.asp. Accessed December 20, 2014.

Post-traumatic stress disorder. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder.html. Updated May 2010. Accessed December 20, 2014.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114915/Posttraumatic-stress-disorder-PTSD. Updated August 19, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2016.



Last reviewed December 2015 by Adrian Preda, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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