Approximately seven to eight percent of the population will struggle with PTSD at some point in their lives1, so this is not a rare condition. However, not everyone who goes through trauma will experience PTSD. About 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women experience some type of trauma. Women are almost twice as likely as men to develop PTSD. Veterans are also vulnerable, and the PTSD rate among veterans is between 11 and 15 percent.1

Trauma is not unusual, and neither is PTSD. This condition is very difficult to live with, but it can be treated effectively. It’s not known why someone will develop PTSD following trauma, while others don’t. So, it’s important to watch for symptoms and signs in anyone who has been through a difficult event so that a diagnosis can be made and treatment can begin as soon as possible.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a condition that results from a highly distressing or disturbing experience. The traumatic situation will trigger fear, and both an emotional and physical response. This is normal, but while most people recover from this response, a few will continue to experience it long after the traumatic event is over.

A scary or traumatic situation triggers what is called the “fight or flight” response. Quick changes in the brain and body allow a person to make a split decision in the moment: to run away or avoid the perceived danger or to fight back. It is a biological mechanism that keeps people safe in dangerous situations. A person with PTSD continues to feel the fear response, sometimes months or years after a trauma.

Any kind of trauma can potentially trigger PTSD, such as witnessing something bad that happens to someone else, or it can be something that happens personally. It may be a one-time, short event, or long-term trauma. Some examples of trauma that may trigger PTSD include:

  • Childhood abuse, including physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • Childhood neglect
  • Witnessing abuse, as a child or as an adult
  • Experiences from active service in the military
  • An accident, such as a bad car crash
  • Physical assault or sexual violence
  • Going through a natural disaster
  • The loss of a loved one

Experiencing some fear weeks or even a month or two after a traumatic incident is not abnormal. However, if these symptoms persist, they may be caused by PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD

The signs of PTSD may vary by person, but they are generally related to fear and stress associated with the traumatic event. This may include flashbacks, nightmares, aggression or jumpiness, and avoidance, among many others symptoms. PTSD symptoms can be categorized as four main types:

  1. Reliving the event—PTSD can cause a person to be unable to get thoughts and memories of trauma out of their heads. A person may have nightmares about the event and realistic and terrifying flashbacks. These may be triggered by certain smells, people, sounds or other sensory stimuli. The nightmares and flashbacks cause the same fear response and distress as the event itself.
  2. Avoiding situations that are reminiscent of the trauma. To avoid the fear and stress of the trauma, a person may go to great lengths to avoid anything that triggers memories or flashbacks. A person may also avoid talking about the trauma, pretending as if everything is fine.
  3. Negative mood and thoughts—PTSD can cause a person to change the way they see the world. A person may feel hopeless about the future, distrusting of others, and may lack any interest in activities that were once enjoyable. A person may also become socially withdrawn or struggle to have positive emotions.
  4. Hyperarousal—PTSD can make a person hyperaware of danger and cause overreactions because of fear. A person with PTSD may be jumpy and easily startled, may have difficulty sleeping and may have trouble concentrating. PTSD can cause someone to be aggressive, tense and irritable.

Many of the symptoms of PTSD are normal in the weeks following a traumatic experience. They may indicate PTSD if they persist for three months or more, cause serious distress or interfere with a person’s work, relationships and other areas of life.

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Signs of PTSD in Children

Symptoms of PTSD in children are often different from those in adults, or there may be additional symptoms along with some of the more common, adult symptoms of PTSD. These include:

  • A fear of separation from their parents
  • Acting out the trauma during play
  • New anxiety or fears that are unrelated to the trauma
  • Physical pains that have no obvious cause
  • Nightmares that are not necessarily related to the trauma
  • Behavior changes and inappropriate behaviors, like aggression
  • Losing already-acquired skills, such as potty training

Diagnosing PTSD

To be diagnosed with PTSD, the symptoms must be persistent, lasting for more than a month. They must also cause significant distress and impairment in a person’s daily life. The diagnostic criteria include that the person must have experienced, either directly or indirectly, some kind of trauma. The person must be persistently reliving the trauma and engage in significant avoidance to try to prevent flashbacks, nightmares or negative memories. In addition to these criteria, the person must also have four or more other symptoms, like aggression, isolation, jumpiness or negative feelings about people or the world.

Transformations Treatment Centers offers different individualized treatment programs for our clients. Depending on the exact needs of the person being treated, they can enroll in the First Responders Program, Veterans Recovery Program or Sexual Abuse/Trauma Program to help with co-occurring PTSD and substance use disorders.

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