Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (cont.)
Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD
Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- What is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
- What are the effects of PTSD?
- What causes PTSD?
- What are PTSD risk factors and protective factors?
- What are PTSD symptoms and signs?
- How is PTSD assessed?
- What is the treatment for PTSD?
- How can people cope with PTSD?
- Where can people get help for PTSD?
- PTSD At A Glance
- Take the PTSD Quiz!
- Stress-Reducing Foods - Slideshow
- Take the Panic Attacks Quiz!
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) FAQs
- Find a local Psychiatrist in your town
What are PTSD symptoms and signs?
The following three groups of symptom criteria are required to assign the diagnosis of PTSD:
- Recurrent re-experiencing of the trauma (for example, troublesome memories,
flashbacks that are usually caused by reminders of the traumatic events,
recurring nightmares about
the trauma and/or dissociative reliving of the trauma)
- Avoidance to the point of having a phobia
of places, people, and experiences that remind the sufferer of the trauma or a
general numbing of emotional responsiveness
- Chronic physical signs of hyperarousal, including sleep problems, trouble concentrating, irritability, anger, poor concentration, blackouts or difficulty remembering things, increased tendency and reaction to being startled, and hypervigilance (excessive watchfulness) to threat
The emotional numbing of PTSD may present as a lack of interest in activities that used to be enjoyed (anhedonia), emotional deadness, distancing oneself from people, and/or a sense of a foreshortened future (for example, not being able to think about the future or make future plans, not believing one will live much longer). At least one re-experiencing symptom, three avoidance/numbing symptoms, and two hyperarousal symptoms must be present for at least one month and must cause significant distress or functional impairment in order for the diagnosis of PTSD to be assigned. PTSD is considered of chronic duration if it persists for three months or more.
A similar disorder in terms of symptom repertoire is acute stress disorder. The major differences between the two disorders are that acute stress disorder symptoms persist from two days to four weeks, and a fewer number of traumatic symptoms are required to make the diagnosis as compared to PTSD.
In children, re-experiencing the trauma may occur through repeated play that has trauma-related themes instead of or in addition to memories, and distressing dreams may have more general content rather than of the traumatic event itself. As in adults, at least one re-experiencing symptom, three avoidance/numbing symptoms, and two hyperarousal symptoms must be present for at least one month and must cause significant distress or functional impairment in order for the diagnosis of PTSD to be assigned. When symptoms have been present for less than one month, a diagnosis of acute stress disorder (ASD) can be made.
Symptoms of PTSD that tend to be associated with C-PTSD include problems regulating feelings, which can result in suicidal thoughts, explosive anger, or passive aggressive behaviors; a tendency to forget the trauma or feel detached from one's life (dissociation) or body (depersonalization); persistent feelings of helplessness, shame, guilt, or being completely different from others; feeling the perpetrator of trauma is all-powerful and preoccupation with either revenge against or allegiance with the perpetrator; and severe change in those things that give the sufferer meaning, like a loss of spiritual faith or an ongoing sense of helplessness, hopelessness, or despair.
Next: How is PTSD assessed?
Viewers share their comments
- Submit »
- Submit »
Get tips on therapy and treatment.