Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Symptoms, Diagnosis


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), also called as shell shock, battle fatigue, accident neurosis and post rape syndrome, is a serious mental health condition that happens in some people after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as a fire, a war, a serious accident, or the like.

It should be emphasized that most people who are exposed to traumatic events do not develop PTSD and many people with symptoms after a trauma show gradual improvement with time. With time and good self-care, they usually get better. If the symptoms get worse, last for months or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may have PTSD.

PTSD is diagnosed only if the symptoms last more than a month. In some cases, the condition may be chronic. Occasionally, the illness doesn’t show up until years after the traumatic event.

Psychiatrists estimate that up to one to 3 percent of the population have clinically diagnosable PTSD.


Usually, doctors aren’t sure why some people get PTSD. As with most mental health problems, PTSD is probably caused by a complex mix of:

  • Psychologically traumatic events: such as acutal or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation.
  • Stressful experiences: triggering events are called “stressors”. People may experience these stressors alone or in a large group. Generally, stressful experiences may include military confrontation, natural disasters, serious accidents, terrorist attacks and personal assault.
  • Inherited mental and personality traits: such as the family history of anxiety and depression, personal temperament and so on.
  • Brain activity: this refers to the way your brain regulates the chemicals and hormones your body releases in response to stress.


People with PTSD commonly display three types of symptoms:

  • Intrusive re-experiencing symptoms

This kind of symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

  • Avoidance or numbing symptoms

This kind of symptoms may include a person’s refusal to discuss the event or avoidance of situations that remind the person of the event.

  • Hyperarousal symptoms

This kind of symptoms occurs when a person is easily startled or on edge, becomes irritable, or has trouble falling asleep.

  • Physical symptoms

There may also be physical symptoms, but these are not included in the DSM-5 criteria. Physical effects include sweating, shaking, headaches, dizziness, stomach problems, aches and pains, and chest pain.

  • Emotional symptoms

The emotional symptoms may include depression, worry, intense guilt and emotionally numbness. In addition to PTSD symptoms, children may develop learning disabilities and have problems with attention and memory. They may become anxious or clinging and may also abuse themselves or others.


To diagnose PTSD, your doctor may be likely to do the following:

  • Complete a physical examination to check for medical problems that may cause your symptoms
  • Do a psychological evaluation that includes discussing your signs and symptoms and the events that have led up to them, as well as identifying the duration and level of intensity of those signs
  • Use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association to evaluate the condition


Not all people who experience trauma need treatment. But many do need professional help to successfully recover from the psychological damage. Your doctor may recommend the following treatment methods:

  • Psychotherapy

Several types of psychotherapy may be used to treat children and adults with PTSD, which includes cognitive therapy, exposure therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

  • Medications

Several types of medications can help improve symptoms of PTSD, like antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and Prazosin.

  • Group therapy

This therapy helps lessen the shame and provide support, as well as reduce the feeling of helplessness. Groups for survivors of sexual assault and combat experiences frequently have members living with PTSD and related symptoms.

  • Other biological interventions

Many states that have legalized marijuana for medical use, and it includes an indication for PTSD. Research is also underway to assess the potential use of ecstasy (MDMA) to augment psychotherapy for PTSD, which is currently illegal in the U.S.

  • Complementary health approaches

Some methods that have been used for PTSD include yoga, aqua therapy, acupuncture, mindfulness and meditation strategies and practices, and service dogs.

  • Present-centered therapy

This approach centers around current issues rather than directly processing the trauma.

Keywords: post-traumatic stress disorder; shell shock; battle fatigue; accident neurosis; post rape syndrome.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.