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For most people, PTSD starts within about three 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 six 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 three categories:

  • Re-experiencing the event:
    • Dreams/nightmares
    • Flashbacks
    • Anxious reactions to reminders of the event
    • Hallucinations
  • Avoidance:
    • Avoiding close emotional contact with family and friends
    • Avoiding people or places that are reminders of the event
    • Loss of memory about the event
    • Feelings of detachment, numbness
  • 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-IV-TR). American Psychiatric Association; 2000.

DynaMed Editors. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated August 18, 2010. Accessed August 24, 2010.

National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov.

Stern, TA et al. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier, 2008.



Last reviewed November 2013 by Michael Woods, 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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