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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Also called: Shell Shock, PTSS, PTSD, Combat Fatigue, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome

- Summary
- About PTSD
- Risk factors and causes
- Signs and symptoms
- Diagnosis methods
- Treatment options
- Questions for your doctor

Reviewed By:
Tahir Tellioglu, M.D., APA, AAAP


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that involves feelings of intense fear, helplessness or horror brought on by experiencing or witnessing an especially traumatic or terrifying event. About 5 million adult Americans suffer from PTSD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

In some cases, a trauma that directly impacts a person’s life may cause PTSD. Examples include military combat, rape or an automobile accident. In other cases, a person may develop PTSD after witnessing a trauma, such as seeing a plane crash or the physical abuse or torture of others.

Many patients with PTSD repeatedly re-experience the traumatic event in the form of flashback episodes, nightmares or frightening thoughts. Therefore, they try to avoid any reminders or thoughts of the traumatic event. Feelings of intense guilt, emotional numbness, sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, irritability and substance abuse are also common, which makes it difficult for patients to maintain close relationships with others. 

For many, PTSD can become so debilitating that patients have difficulty maintaining a job or socializing. Patients may not be aware that they have the condition, but may instead seek care when they find themselves overwhelmed by feelings related to a traumatic event or series of events. Before diagnosing PTSD, a physician will likely ask the patient about the event that triggered symptoms and how it affected the patient. The patient will also be asked to describe the nature of symptoms, when they occur, how intense they are and how long they last.

A combination of psychotherapy and medications such as antidepressants may be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Review Date: 02-21-2007

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