PTSD Symptoms

What Is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) usually develops in people who have experienced a dangerous, scary, or shocking event [1]. People find themselves naturally afraid during and after a traumatic situation. However, this fear can also trigger split-second changes in the body to either avoid a dangerous situation or defend the body against it.

Types of PTSD

PTSD is now a treatable condition. However, the treatment/therapy is based on the type of PTSD a person is dealing with.

In the normal stress response, people are largely unaware of their PTSD symptoms. It's also important to note that not all normal stress responses develop into a disorder. They usually affect the body's immune, nervous, and endocrine systems. They also activate the body's fight-or-flight response [2].

Events that trigger stress and tension can lead to a normal stress response. These events can include illnesses and accidents, etc.

If someone experiences a life-threatening event, it may trigger an acute stress disorder [3]. These events could include:

  • The loss of a loved one
  • The loss of a job
  • A natural disaster

Symptoms of acute stress disorder can lead to PTSD if left untreated.

Uncomplicated PTSD is linked with one traumatic event as opposed to multiple events. It may induce a strong desire to avoid a certain place or person that might be related to the trauma. Some of its symptoms are similar to other types of PTSD. But they don’t coexist with other mental health conditions such as depression [4]. It is also the most commonly diagnosed type of this disorder.

Complex PTSD is a result of multiple traumatic events involving abuse or domestic violence. When there is repeated exposure to war, loss, or violence, it may also trigger complex PTSD. Symptoms often occur in childhood or adulthood. This is because chronic trauma is associated with complex PTSD. As a result, affected people may experience troubles with relationships and behavior [5].

How Is PTSD Diagnosed?

Diagnosing PTSD requires a careful evaluation of your symptoms. Here are all the steps involved in the diagnosis process [6].

A Physical Exam allows your doctor to look for any medical problems that may be causing the symptoms.

Then comes a psychological evaluation. This includes a detailed discussion of the signs and symptoms. It also includes a discussion of the events that may have led up to the onset.

Following this, your doctor may use the DSM-5 criteria to confirm the diagnosis.

According to this manual, PTSD diagnosis requires exposure to an event involving:

  • Serious injury
  • Violence
  • The threat of death, etc.

The exposure can happen in the following ways:

  • Direct experience of the traumatic event
  • Witnessing a traumatic event happening to others
  • Finding out that someone close to you experienced a traumatic event
  • Experiencing repeated exposure to the graphic aspects of the events

If you continue experiencing problems long after this exposure, you may have PTSD.

PTSD Staging

Everyone experiences PTSD differently. While some symptoms are similar, others might be starkly different. Nonetheless, the disorder can be divided into the following 5 stages [7]:

  • Impact
  • Denial
  • Rescue
  • Short-term recovery
  • Long-term recovery

Is PTSD Hereditary?

According to recent findings, genetic risk factors may account for 30 to 40% of PTSD heritability [8]. There is still more research required to understand its gene pathways and how they induce fear and stress. Only then can targeted therapies be developed. While there are a number of challenges in the form of inconsistent results, genetic approaches offer various opportunities to identify and develop novel therapies in the future.

PTSD Symptoms

PTSD symptoms may be hard to identify in the beginning. Nonetheless, if you experience the stated signs and symptoms for a prolonged period, you may want to get checked by a professional immediately.

What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?

Symptoms of PTSD fall into four categories [9]:

Intrusion: These symptoms consist of distressing dreams, repeated memories, flashbacks, etc.

Avoidance: This is when a person constantly avoids reminders of the traumatic event. They may avoid situations, people, or places that may trigger certain memories. They may also avoid talking about the event and their feelings associated with it.

Changes in mood and cognition: These symptoms may consist of an inability to remember crucial aspects of the event. People may experience negative feelings and thoughts or distorted beliefs about others or themselves.

Changes in reactivity and arousal: These symptoms could include sudden angry outbursts, reckless behavior, and self-destructive tendencies. A person may be overly suspicious of their surroundings. They may even have problems sleeping or concentrating.

What Are Some Signs of PTSD?

Some signs of PTSD include [10]:

  • Being easily startled or scared
  • Negative thinking
  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • An incessant feeling of threat
  • Being overly sensitive to certain sights, sounds, or smells
  • Feelings of irritability, anxiety, panic, and anger
  • An inability to feel pleasure
  • A heavy sense of shame or guilt
  • Problems with concentrating or sleeping due to hyperarousal
  • Feeling defeated and worthless
  • Detaching from people/troubles forming or maintaining relationships, etc.

Symptoms of PTSD in Women vs Symptoms of PTSD in Men*

Men and women may experience PTSD differently. Women are more likely to experience the following [11]:

  • Feelings of anxiety and depression
  • Feeling easily startled
  • Avoiding thoughts or experiences that may remind them of the traumatic event
  • Feeling numb

Women also experience PTSD symptoms longer than men. Furthermore, men are more likely than women to have problems with drugs or alcohol following the trauma. However, both men and women with the disorder may also experience physical health problems.

Risk Factors for PTSD

Some risk factors for PTSD include [12]:

  • Childhood trauma
  • Seeing a dead body or seeing someone else get hurt
  • Feeling extreme fear, helplessness, and horror
  • Having a history of mental illness
  • Going through excessive stress following a tragic or traumatic event
  • Lack of social support after a tough experience
  • Living through certain traumas and events

PTSD Prevention

Experiencing certain events in life is inevitable. Ensuring that it doesn’t turn into something more serious can be a challenge. Fortunately, it is possible to prevent trauma from turning into PTSD. Here are some of the many ways to do so [13]:

  • Finding positive meaning in the traumatic experience
  • Having a strong and healthy support system
  • Opening up to a loved one about the trauma
  • Avoiding the use of the “victim” label
  • Use of laughter and other positive emotions
  • Holding a strong belief that any feeling can be managed
  • Helping other people going through something similar/assisting in their healing process

PTSD Prognosis and Treatment

The prognosis of PTSD depends on various factors, such as:

  • Age
  • Severity of trauma
  • Presence/absence of therapy
  • Type of therapy

However, without treatment, any mental illness can get worse. The good news is that treatments help even years after the traumatic event. For some, they can lead to a cure. For others, they may help make the symptoms less intense.

PTSD Survival Rate

PTSD does not directly threaten one’s life. However, ignored and untreated symptoms can manifest as something more dangerous in the future. People who do not receive adequate support and treatment may indulge in self-destructive behaviors and cause themselves harm. There’s also a greater suicide risk in people with PTSD.

PTSD Treatment Options

Most healthcare professionals follow a multidimensional approach when treating PTSD. Generally, treatment options include:

  • Anxiety management through psychotherapy, etc.
  • Social support
  • Patient education

The most used treatment approaches are [14]:


Cognitive behavioral therapy is a very useful approach when working with PTSD symptoms. In one study, patients received different types of cognitive-behavior treatment [15]. It went on for six weeks and consisted of nine sessions. About 46% of people experienced a positive end-state function. This means they experienced a 50% reduction in their symptom severity.

Types of cognitive-behavior therapies include:

  • Exposure therapy
  • Cognition therapy
  • Stress inoculation training

These approaches help patients confront fear and develop various management tools. While there are additional approaches available, CBT's efficacy is well-established. Other less-studied approaches include:

  • Reprocessing therapy
  • Eye movement desensitization
  • Group therapy

No other treatment option’s efficacy is as well demonstrated as CBT’s.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

The following medications have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for treating PTSD:

  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)

A study consisting of 24 weeks of acute therapy followed by a 28-week maintenance phase concluded the following [16]:

  • Sertraline prevented the related PTSD symptoms
  • Continued treatment with a 137 mg dosage of this drug showed a 5% relapse rate
  • Treatment with a placebo showed a 26% relapse rate

All in all, a number of trials have established the efficacy of SSRIs in treating PTSD symptoms.



Post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious condition. Understanding its symptoms and triggers can significantly help the medical community come up with better treatment approaches. Despite being a mental illness, it can also manifest in physical forms and cause extreme distress. It’s important to seek immediate help when experiencing either early or late PTSD symptoms.