Signs & Symptoms of PTSD

Oasis Behavioral Health Hospital helps individuals in Chandler, AZ diagnose and treat their mental health & addiction disorders.

Understanding PTSD

Learn about PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the development of characteristic symptoms that arise following exposure to one or more traumatic events. The actual presentation of PTSD varies from person to person. Some individuals will experience more fear-based re-experiencing, emotional, and behavioral symptoms while mood states and negative cognitions may be more distressing for others. Additionally, arousal and reactive-externalizing symptoms may be most prominent for some, while in others, dissociative symptoms are more troubling. Finally, there are a number of adolescents and adults that will exhibit a combination of all of these symptoms. While not everyone who lives through a traumatic event will develop this disorder, PTSD can affect people of all ages and ethnicities.

Post-traumatic stress disorder develops differently in each person who experiences it. Some individuals may notice symptoms in the days and weeks following the event, while others do not develop symptoms for weeks, months, or even years after the event. The most common traumatic events include:

  • Sudden, unexpected death of a loved one
  • Natural disasters
  • Rape/sexual assault
  • Kidnapping
  • Sexual or physical abuse
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Car accidents
  • Physical assault
  • Child neglect
  • War
  • Plane crashes

While PTSD is an extremely debilitating disorder there is help available to get you through this difficult time. With proper medication, support, and therapeutic interventions those suffering with PTSD will be able to move on with life.


PTSD statistics

In the United States, the projected lifetime risk for PTSD is 8.7% with a twelve month prevalence rate of 3.5% among adults. PTSD is more common in women, with approximately 10% of women developing post-traumatic stress disorder at some time in their lives compared to 5% of men. Additionally, there is a prevalence rate of 4% among children ages 13 to 18 years of age. About 7% to 8% of the population of the United States will develop PTSD at some point in their lifetime.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for PTSD

The main cause for the development of PTSD is exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. However, the reason why some individuals develop this disorder while others do not is unclear. Some of the most common hypothesized causes may include:

Genetic: People who have first-degree relatives with anxiety disorders or other types of mental illness are at a greater risk for developing PTSD after being exposed to a traumatic event. There are certain genotypes that can either be protective or increase risk of PTSD after exposure to trauma. Additionally, inherited mental health risks such as an increased risk for anxiety or depression can play a role, as well as inherited aspects of personality.

Physical: Neuroimaging studies conducted on the brains of people who have PTSD, have noted marked differences in the structure of certain areas of the brain. Additionally, the level of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin may be lower in those who have an anxiety disorder. So the way in which an individual’s brain regulates chemicals and hormones in the body, which are released in response to stress, can cause the development of PTSD.

Environmental: Individuals who have lower social economic status, lower education, and dysfunctional family relationships, have learned self-blaming coping strategies, and have been exposed to prior trauma all have an increased risk of developing PTSD. Additionally, the severity of the trauma, level of personal threat, and being injured will also increase an individual’s risk.

Risk Factors:

  • Childhood emotional problems
  • Negative appraisals
  • Inappropriate coping strategies
  • Younger age at time of trauma exposure
  • Exposure to multiple life events
  • Being female
  • Existence of other mental health problems
  • Lacking good support system

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of PTSD

The symptoms of PTSD may develop suddenly or can begin gradually and get worse over time. However, most individuals reaction to the trauma is apparent in the immediate aftermath of the trauma. The symptoms associated with PTSD may vary over time and the duration of the symptoms will also vary depending upon the individual. The symptoms of PTSD are generally grouped into three different categories and can include:

Re-Experiencing Symptoms:

  • Flashbacks – reliving the traumatic event
  • Being triggered by words, objects, or situations that remind the person of the event
  • Disruptions in everyday routine
  • Intense physical reactions to flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Severe distress when reminded of the trauma

Avoidance Symptoms:

  • General memory problems
  • Hopelessness about future
  • Emotional numbing
  • Feeling detached from others
  • Avoiding certain places, events, or objects that remind a person of the trauma
  • Challenges recalling important parts of the traumatic event
  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about event
  • Avoiding activities once enjoyed
  • Trouble concentrating

Hyperarousal Symptoms:

  • Constantly tense or on-edge
  • Irritability or anger
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Bering easily startled or frightened
  • Engaging in self-destructive behavior
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Hearing or seeing things that aren’t there


Effects of PTSD

If not properly treated, the long-term effects that result from PTSD can cause significant impairment in the lives of those who are struggling with this disorder. Additionally, the presence of PTSD can place an individual at a higher risk for developing a number of other mental health disorders and certain medical illnesses. Fortunately, with the right treatment and support individuals can learn to move past their PTSD and go on to lead happy, healthy lives. Long-term problems may include:

  • Social isolation and withdrawal
  • Loss of ability to excel at school or properly complete tasks at work
  • Impaired ability to have interpersonal relationships
  • Separation or divorce
  • Lower income
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Worsening physical health problems
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

PTSD and co-occurring disorders

Those who have PTSD are 80% more likely than those without the disorder to meet the criteria for at least one other mental health disorder. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders may include:

  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Other anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (in children)
  • Separation anxiety disorder (in children)
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