Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health state caused by a frightening incident. Many people who experience traumatic events may initially find it difficult to cope and adjust to these events. However, they usually get better with time and through taking care of themselves.

When the symptoms stay for less than a month after trauma, it is usually referred to as acute stress disorder (ASD). But, if the symptoms continue even after a month, they are mostly called PTSD. In both cases, alcohol abuse or medical problems must not be considered as primary causes of these symptoms.

In most cases, ASD comes before PTSD but, PTSD symptoms can sometimes appear immediately after a traumatic event or after several weeks, months, or even years following a terrifying moment.

In some cases, PTSD can stay temporarily, but in others, they stay bad. If symptoms persist for more than a month, you should seek advice from a doctor or mental health professional. Both medications and talk therapy may be useful in relieving symptoms of PTSD.

DSM V Diagnostic Criteria

For an adult to be diagnosed with PTSD, the following conditions should be present for more than a month, according to the  Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM V):


Symptoms of PTSD
Symptoms of PTSD
  • At least one avoidance symptom
  • At least two mood and cognition symptoms
  • At least two reactivity and reactivity symptoms
  • At least one re-experiencing symptom


Re-experiencing symptoms

Re-experiencing symptoms may lead to complications in the daily routine of a person. These symptoms may originate from a person’s own feelings and thoughts. Objects, situations, or words that prompt the event can also stimulate re-experiencing symptoms that include:


Flashbacks and other intrusive memories that are unwanted are referred to as “re-experiencing symptoms.” These symptoms may make a survivor of trauma feel like they are reviving the traumatic event.

Other triggers of flashbacks include sights, smells, and sounds such as the whirring of a helicopter, or a news report. When these triggers do come, they go to the deep part of your brain, and you become under control of your instincts.


Although flashbacks are among the best-known symptoms of PTSD, nightmares, a significant factor that causes people with PTSD to have poor sleep are more common.

Nightmares about upsetting events are also taken to be re-experiencing symptoms because they can make people with PTSD feel like they are back in the place and time of their trauma.

A person’s own certain words or thoughts may sometimes trigger nightmares and other re-experiencing symptoms.


Reminders of traumatic events can initiate avoidance symptoms such that you don’t want to either talk or think about it. You avoid everything and everyone that may make you remember a traumatic event, including activities and places.

The symptoms may affect the personal routine of a person. For instance, a person who enjoys driving may stop driving or riding in a car after a terrible car accident.

Car accident
Car accident

The avoidance may widen than a specific setting or person. For example, a lady may avoid a person or men altogether after undergoing sexual assault. This leads to loneliness, and you may feel detached.

Avoidance may take the form of emotional numbing in some cases. According to the American Psychological Association, some people who have PTSD refuse to talk or thinking about the trauma; alternatively, they find disruptions in alcohol and drugs.

Arousal and reactivity symptoms

These symptoms are always constant. They may cause anger or stress in a person. Arousal symptoms also can make it difficult for a person to carry out regular tasks like eating, sleeping, and concentrating.

  1. Being always on the lookout for threats

This symptom of PTSD is called hypervigilance. Just like nightmares, this keen consciousness can cause sleep problems for those with PTSD. It becomes tough to fall or even stay asleep when any small noise or change wakes you up.

  1. Getting startled easily

This symptom is at times called hyperarousal. This condition has a close relationship with hypervigilance. When startled or surprised, people with PTSD frequently experience an exaggerated reaction, mainly if the intrusion, be it noise, smell, or noise makes them remember the original trauma.

Hyperarousal can affect concentration and sleep. It may also appear to be an anger outburst. Getting easily startled is a unique feature of PTSD and is not an apparent symptom of other anxiety-related conditions.

Cognition and mood symptom

After a traumatic event, mood and cognition symptoms can start or worsen. But, substance use or injury does not cause cognition and mood symptoms. The victim, therefore, feels separated or isolated from family members or friends.

  1. Irritability or Depression

The diagnostic criteria for PTSD have consisted of mood-related symptoms such as anger, depression, guilt, shame, depression, and hopelessness about the future since 2013. Occasionally, suicidal thoughts can come and go.

  1. Negative thoughts about oneself or the world

You may have bad beliefs about yourself and self-blame when you have trauma. You may feel numb, hopeless, or bad about others or yourself.

  1. Loss of interest in enjoyable activities

You may lack interest in activities that you usually enjoy. Your desire to keep relationships with family and close friends may decline.

Other possible symptoms

Chronic pain

According to the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs, between 15% and 35% of people with chronic pain are affected by PTSD. People with chronic pain may have or lack PTSD and people with PTSD may also have or lack chronic pain.

The trauma can also result to back pain from a spinal injury or headaches from a brain injury. Still, there seems to be a higher level of chronic pain for people with PTSD than those without after doing away with the physical causes.

Feeling panicked

 Apart from pain, people with PTSD may also experience panic, get dizzy, or develop a blurry vision. In some rare cases, people with PTSD may vomit or feel nauseous in reaction to certain triggers.

Do children react differently than adults?

Although the symptoms of children and teens may not rhyme with those of adults, they can have extreme responses to trauma. Some of the symptoms witnessed in children below six years include:

  • Wetting beddings despite being taught how to use the toilet
  • Getting scared while playing.
  • Inability to remember how to talk or unable to talk
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