What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can occur as a response to experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Examples of events might include military combat, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, car accidents, or ongoing childhood abuse or neglect. Experts think that PTSD occurs because the brain changes in the aftermath of traumatic events.  

For many people, symptoms begin almost right away after the trauma happens. For others, the symptoms may not begin or may not become a problem until years later. Symptoms of PTSD may include:

  • Repeatedly thinking about the trauma. You may find that thoughts about the trauma come to mind even when you don’t want them to. You might also have nightmares or flashbacks about the trauma or may become upset when something reminds you of the event.

  • Being constantly alert or on guard. You may be easily startled or angered, irritable or anxious and preoccupied with staying safe.  You may also find it hard to concentrate or sleep or have physical problems, like constipation, diarrhea, rapid breathing, muscle tension or a rapid heart rate.

  • Avoiding reminders of the trauma.  You may not want to talk about the event or be around people or places that remind you of the event.  You also may feel emotionally numb, detached from friends and family, and lose interest in activities.

These are other symptoms of PTSD:

  • Panic attacks: a feeling of intense fear (not necessarily about the traumatic event, but sometimes about something entirely unrelated), with shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, nausea and racing heart.

  • Physical symptoms: chronic pain, headaches, stomach pain, diarrhea, tightness or burning in the chest, muscle cramps or low back pain.

  • Feelings of mistrust: losing trust in others and thinking the world is a dangerous place. 

  • Problems in daily living: having problems functioning in your job, at school, or in social situations.

  • Substance use problems: using drugs or alcohol to cope with, or forget, the emotional pain.

  • Relationship problems: having problems with intimacy, or feeling detached from your family and friends.

  • Depression: persistent sad, anxious or empty mood; loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities; feelings of guilt and shame; or hopelessness about the future. Other symptoms of depression may also develop.

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