What is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

If you have gone through a traumatic experience, it’s normal to feel lots of emotions about it. These can include distress, fear, helplessness, guilt, shame or anger. You may start to feel better later, but sometimes these feelings don’t go away.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common mental health condition that appears after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Examples of events might include natural disasters, violent attacks, car accidents, or childhood abuse or neglect. The same event can affect people differently—what’s traumatic for you might not be traumatic for someone else.

PTSD usually develops after a single, brief traumatic event. Some forms of trauma occur over long periods of time and can lead to a related condition, Complex PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD

The telltale signs of PTSD are:

  • Repeatedly thinking about the trauma. You may find that thoughts about the trauma come to mind even when you don’t want them to. You might also have nightmares or flashbacks about the event.
  • Being constantly alert or on guard. You may be easily startled or angered, irritable or anxious and preoccupied with staying safe. You might become hyper-aware of your surroundings and see danger everywhere.
  • Avoiding reminders of the trauma. You may not want to talk about the event or be around people or places that remind you of the event. You may even forget details about the event or suppress your memories.
  • Intense negative emotions and beliefs. You may feel depressed, anxious, guilty, or angry. You might blame yourself for the trauma, or believe that no one can be trusted.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Trouble concentrating or sleeping
  • Losing interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • Relationship problems: having problems with intimacy, or feeling detached from your family and friends
  • Physical symptoms: chronic pain, headaches, stomach pain, diarrhea, tightness or burning in the chest, muscle cramps or lower back pain
  • Panic attacks: a sudden feeling of intense fear (which may seem totally unrelated to the event), with shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, nausea and racing heart
  • Substance use problems: using drugs or alcohol to cope with, or forget, the emotional pain
  • Relationship problems: having problems with intimacy, or feeling detached from your family and friends
  • Other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts

Most people who experience a traumatic event have symptoms like these for a few days after the event. But people with PTSD experience them for over a month, and they interfere with the person’s life.

PTSD can happen to anyone—at any age

About 1 in 11 people will experience PTSD at some time in their life. About 3.5% of American adults experience it every year. We often think of PTSD as something that affects male war veterans, but women experience PTSD twice as often as men.

PTSD often appears alongside other mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety. PTSD can be treated successfully, and many people recover from it.

If you think you may be experiencing PTSD, take our free PTSD test. Then, keep exploring this site to learn more.

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