Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involves intense, unpleasant, and dysfunctional reactions beginning after an overwhelming traumatic event.
Events that threaten death or serious injury can cause intense, long-lasting distress.
Affected individuals may relive the event, have nightmares, and avoid anything that reminds them of the event.
Treatment may include psychotherapy (supportive and exposure therapy) and antidepressants.
See Overview of Trauma- & Stress-Related Disorders.
When terrible things happen, many individuals are lastingly affected.
In some, the effects are so persistent and severe that they are debilitating and constitute a disorder.
Generally, events likely to cause PTSD are those that invoke feelings of fear, helplessness, or horror.
Combat, sexual assault, and natural or man-made disasters are common causes of PTSD.
However, it can result from any experience that feels overwhelming and life threatening, such as physical violence or an automobile crash.
These events may be:
- Experienced directly (such as having a serious injury or being threatened with death);
- Indirectly (witnessing others being seriously injured, killed, or threatened with death; or
- Learning of traumatic events that occurred to close family members or friends).
Individuals may have experienced a single trauma or, as is common, multiple traumas.
It is not known why the same traumatic event may cause no symptoms in one individual and lifelong PTSD in another.
Nor is it known why some individual witness or experience the same trauma many times over years without developing PTSD, but then develop it following an apparently similar episode.
PSTD affects almost 9% of individuals sometime during their life, including childhood.
About 4% have it during any 12-month period.
PTSD lasts for more than 1 month. It may be a continuation of acute stress disorder or develop separately up to 6 months after the event.
Chronic PTSD may not disappear but often becomes less intense over time even without treatment.
Nevertheless, some individuals remain severely handicapped by the disorder.