Overview
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a fairly recent entity. In 1972, American psychiatrist Shatan published in the New York Times an article on Post-Vietnam Syndrome. This syndrome was included in 1980 in DSM, the Manual of Psychiatric Diagnosis.

The essential feature of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the development of characteristic symptoms following exposure to one or more traumatic events (a shocking, scary, or dangerous event).

It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger.

Signs and Symptoms
PTSD can occur at any age, beginning after the first year of life. Symptoms usually begin within the first 3 months after the trauma, although there may be a delay of months or even years before criteria for the diagnosis are met.

The symptoms of PTSD and the relative predominance of different symptoms may vary over time. Duration of the symptoms also varies, with complete recovery within 3 months occurring in approximately one-half of adults, while some individuals remain symptomatic for longer than 12 months and sometimes for more than 50 years. Symptom recurrence and intensification may occur in response to reminders of the original trauma, ongoing life stressors, or newly experienced traumatic events. For older individuals, declining health, worsening cognitive functioning, and social isolation may exacerbate PTSD symptoms.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must have all of the following for at least 1 month:

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom (flashbacks, nightmares, frightening thoughts)
  • At least one avoidance symptom (staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience, avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event)
  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms (being easily startled, feeling tense or “on edge”, having difficulty sleeping, having angry outbursts)
  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms (trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event, negative thoughts about oneself or the world, distorted feelings like guilt or blame, loss of interest in enjoyable activities)

Do children react differently than adults?
Children and teens can have extreme reactions to trauma, but their symptoms may not be the same as adults. In very young children (less than 6 years of age), these symptoms can include:

  • Wetting the bed after having learned to use the toilet
  • Forgetting how to or being unable to talk
  • Acting out the scary event during playtime
  • Being unusually clingy with a parent or other adult

Older children and teens are more likely to show symptoms similar to those seen in adults. They may also develop disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive behaviors. Older children and teens may feel guilty for not preventing injury or deaths. They may also have thoughts of revenge.

Why do some people develop PTSD and other people do not?
It is important to remember that not everyone who lives through a dangerous event develops PTSD. In fact, most people will not develop the disorder.

Many factors play a part in whether a person will develop PTSD. Some examples are listed below. Risk factors make a person more likely to develop PTSD. Other factors, called resilience factors, can help reduce the risk of the disorder.

Risk Factors and Resilience Factors for PTSD
Some factors that increase risk for PTSD include:

  • Living through dangerous events and traumas
  • Getting hurt
  • Seeing another person hurt, or seeing a dead body
  • Childhood trauma
  • Feeling horror, helplessness, or extreme fear
  • Having little or no social support after the event
  • Dealing with extra stress after the event, such as loss of a loved one, pain and injury, or loss of a job or home
  • Having a history of mental illness or substance abuse

Some resilience factors that may reduce the risk of PTSD include:

  • Seeking out support from other people, such as friends and family
  • Finding a support group after a traumatic event
  • Learning to feel good about one’s own actions in the face of danger
  • Having a positive coping strategy, or a way of getting through the bad event and learning from it
  • Being able to act and respond effectively despite feeling fear

Getting effective treatment after PTSD symptoms develop can be critical to reduce symptoms and improve functioning.

Discover more about the connection between mind and body, how psychotherapy can help you overcome a difficult period or childhood trauma, how to manage better your emotions and how to keep stress under control. Browse the information on the web site and send the contact form to PsihoHelp with your message or questions, either to make your appointment.

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