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Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) FAQs

Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

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Q:What is PTSD?

A: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an emotional illness that is classified as an anxiety disorder and usually develops as a result of a terribly frightening, life-threatening, or otherwise highly unsafe experience.

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Q:Who is more likely to develop PTSD: Men or Women?

A:Women. It is estimated that 5 million people suffer from PTSD at any one time in the United States. Women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD.

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Q:PTSD may follow after what kinds of events?

A:Natural disasters and serious accidents, military combat and terrorist incidents, and violent personal assaults and sexual assaults. Virtually any trauma, defined as an event that is life-threatening or that severely compromises the physical or emotional well-being of an individual or causes intense fear, may cause PTSD. Such events often include either experiencing or witnessing severe accidents, physical injuries, war combat, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, abuse, or involvement in civil conflict.

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Q:The term "hypervigilance" means excessive watchfulness for threats or danger. True or False?

A:True. "Hypervigilance" refers to excessive watchfulness for threats or danger. People who suffer from PTSD may also show hypervigilance in addition to other signs, including sleep problems, trouble concentrating, irritability, anger, poor concentration, blackouts, memory lapse, being easily startled, nightmares, and phobias.

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Q:What are symptoms and signs of PTSD in children?

A:Bedwetting. In very young children, symptoms of PTSD can include the following: Bedwetting, when they had learned how to use a toilet before; forgetting how or being unable to speak; acting out the scary event during playtime and/or being unusually clingy with a parent or other adult. Older children and teens usually show symptoms more like those seen in adults. They may also develop disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive behaviors. Older children and teens may feel guilty for not preventing injury or deaths. They may also have thoughts of revenge.

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Q:Most people who have lived through dangerous events develop PTSD. True or False?

A:False. It is important to remember that not everyone who lives through a dangerous event develops PTSD. In fact, most people will not develop the disorder.

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Q:What is emotional shock?

A:Shock. Extreme emotional upset after tragedy or disaster is referred to as shock. Not to be confused with medical shock, in this sense, shock refers to a psychological or emotional trauma or injury, usually resulting from an extremely stressful or life-threatening situation.

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Q:How is PTSD treated?

A:Psychotherapy and medication. Early on, grief counseling can be helpful. Cognitive psychotherapy in which a trained mental-health professional helps the traumatized person talk through the distressing event is also supportive. Additionally, certain antidepressant medications have been approved for the treatment of posttraumatic stress.

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Q:PTSD is preventable. True or False?

A:False. No prevention for PTSD exists, of course, because traumatic events are often unpredictable and random. However, knowledge is one of the best ways to cope with PTSD. That's why grief counseling works if the counselor concentrates on talking things through.

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Q:PTSD was formerly known as "battle fatigue syndrome." True or False?

A:True. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was once called "shell shock" or "battle fatigue syndrome."

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Q:The term "reliving" describes one symptom of PTSD. What are other symptoms?

A:Avoiding situations, Emotional numbness and Hyperarousal. There are four types of PTSD symptoms: - Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms) - Avoiding situations that remind a person of the event - Emotional numbness (avoiding relationships) - Feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal)

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Q:A traumatized person is likely to be diagnosed with PTSD after having symptoms for how long?

A:1 month. If the symptoms last longer than one month, cause great distress, or interfere with work or home life, PTSD is likely to blame. PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not happen until months or years later (delayed-onset PTSD). At three months or less, a patient is said to have acute PTSD. At three months or longer, chronic PTSD is the diagnosis.

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Q:What is a common emotion associated with PTSD?

A:Anger. Anger is a common emotion associated with PTSD. Anger can create major problems in the personal lives of those who have experienced trauma and those who suffer from PTSD. Anger is also a common response to events that seem unfair or in which you have been made a victim. Research shows that anger can be especially common if you have been betrayed by others. This may be most often seen in cases of trauma that involve exploitation or violence.

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