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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Symptoms

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are seen in around one third of all people who have experienced a traumatic life event. The symptoms vary from person to person but some known symptoms include:

  • Nightmares - Nightmares are one of the most important symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The nightmares usually involve a replay of the traumatic experience that gave rise to the disorder in the first place.
  • Flashbacks - Flashbacks describe moments when an individual experiences mental images of the event that traumatised them.
  • Isolation - People with post-traumatic stress disorder usually feel isolated and segregated from society, family and friends.
  • Irritability and guilt - Individuals may be in a state of hyper arousal causing increased anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and irritability, especially when faced with memories of the traumatic event.
  • Difficulty concentrating - Insomnia caused by nightmares, flashbacks and anxiety may cause difficulty in concentrating and decision making. Driving and operating heavy machinery when concentration is impaired can be dangerous.
  • Anxiety and distress - Being reminded of the traumatic experience often causes severe anxiety and distress. Symptoms may be physical such as sweating, palpitations, dizziness, headaches, stomach cramps, and intense fear. For example, a person who has developed post-traumatic stress disorder after having being exposed to a fire-related accident may have panic attacks or become anxious at the sight of fires, even ones that are usually harmless such as bonfires.
  • Trigger avoidance - Another common feature of post-traumatic stress disorder is avoidance of any possible trigger that could reignite memories of the traumatic event. So, using the above example again, a person who has survived a fire-related accident may avoid fires or even develop a phobia of them.
  • Depression disorders and mood disorders may be associated with post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Substance abuse - Abuse of substances such as alcohol or drugs is associated with the disorder, as the person turns to these agents to help them cope with fear and anxiety.
  • Apathy - A sufferer may become emotionally numb and indifferent to emotions.

Symptoms may develop within a month after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. However in around 15% cases it may take months or even years before the symptoms begin to appear. Symptoms may also disappear for a while. This period of symptom remission is often followed by an episode of symptoms suddenly flaring up.

Children with post-traumatic stress disorder

Children with the disorder typically develop symptoms such as:

  • Bedwetting
  • Forgetting to or being unable to talk
  • Being clingy with parents or caregivers
  • Separation anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Appetite loss
  • Acting out the event that scared them during role play

Reviewed by , BSc

Further Reading

Last Updated: Oct 14, 2013

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