Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety problem. It can develop after your safety or life has been threatened, or after you experience or see a traumatic event. Some examples of traumatic events are a natural disaster, rape, severe car crash or fighting in a war. Usually, the event makes you feel very afraid or helpless. People with PTSD have trouble coping with and recovering from traumatic events and often feel the effects for months or even years afterwards.
You can have symptoms right after the trauma or they can develop months, or even years, later. Your symptoms may include:
People with PTSD are often depressed. Sometimes they try to feel better by using alcohol or drugs. This can lead to substance abuse and addiction.
Whether you'll develop PTSD may depend partly on how severe and intense the trauma was and how long it lasted. Powerful fear-related memories of the event seem to be a major part of PTSD. People who have anxiety, depression or other mental disorders are more likely to develop PTSD. People who have been victims of previous trauma are also at greater risk.
The following people may be at risk for PTSD:
Your doctor can diagnose PTSD by talking with you about your symptoms and experiences.
There are many treatments available. Learning about PTSD and talking to a mental health professional who is trained in treating PTSD can help. Support from family and friends is also an important part of treatment. Medicines for depression or anxiety may also be helpful. PTSD can lead to depression and substance abuse. These problems should be treated before or during PTSD treatment.
PTSD can be treated successfully. However, without treatment, it can last several months to many years, depending on what happened to you and how you feel about it.
Primary Care Treatment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder by JT Lange, CAPT, MC, USA, CL Lange, CAPT, MC, USA and RBG Cabaltica, M.D. (American Family Physician September 01, 2000, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20000901/1035.html)
Post-traumatic Stress Reactions Following Motor Vehicle Accidents by DJ Butler, Ph.D., HS Moffic, M.D. and NW Turkal, M.D (American Family Physician August 01, 1999, http://www.aafp.org/afp/990800ap/524.html)
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff