Overview of PTSD

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that a person may develop after experiencing or witnessing an extreme, overwhelming traumatic event during which they felt intense fear, helplessness, or horror.

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The dominant features of posttraumatic stress disorder are emotional numbing (i.e., emotional non-responsiveness), hyperarousal (e.g., irritability, on constant alert for danger), and re-experiencing of the trauma (e.g., flashbacks, intrusive emotions).

Posttraumatic stress disorder is also referred to as shell shock or battle fatigue (when describing the disorder in combat veterans) and as post-rape syndrome.

Trauma & PTSD

A trauma is an intensely stressful event during which a person suffers serious harm or the threat of serious harm or death, or witnesses an event during which another person (or persons) is killed, seriously injured, or threatened. Traumatic events are commonly classified as follows:

  • Abuse
    • Mental
    • Physical
    • Sexual
    • Verbal (i.e., sexual and/or violent content)
  • Catastrophe
    • Harmful and fatal accidents
    • Natural disasters
    • Terrorism
  • Violent attack
    • Animal attack
    • Assault
    • Battery and domestic violence
    • Rape
  • War, battle, and combat
    • Death
    • Explosion
    • Gunfire

Some studies indicate that symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder also may develop after a serious medical emergency, like heart attack or stroke.

Types of PTSD

There are three types of PTSD: acute, chronic, and delayed onset. In acute PTSD, symptoms last less than 3 months. In chronic PTSD, symptoms last 3 months or more. In delayed onset PTSD, symptoms first appear at least 6 months after the traumatic event.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Jan 2001

Last Modified: 01 Oct 2015