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Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

According to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a trauma- or stressor-related disorder that can develop after exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, such as terrorist attacks, motor vehicle accidents, rape, physical or sexual abuse, severe emotional abuse, or wartime violence, including military combat.

PTSD is a disorder in which your brain continues to react with excessive fear and nervousness after you have experienced or witnessed a trauma or terrifying event, even though the original trauma is over. Our brains can react by staying in overdrive and being hyperalert to the next possible trauma. People with PTSD will re-experience the trauma by having intrusive memories, flashbacks, or nightmares about the event, even though the trauma is in the past. After a traumatic event, we can also become numb and shut down our feelings and try to avoid situations that might cause us to remember the trauma. For other individuals, the effects on emotions and behavior can show up as depression, irritability, or risky behavior.


  • Statistics show that PTSD is relatively common. In any given year, up to 3.5% of Americans may have PTSD.
  • The diagnosis of PTSD was developed by studying soldiers who had returned from war, and it was originally referred to as the "soldier's heart" (American Civil War) and later as "shell shock" (World Wars I and II).
  • You can also get PTSD by being near a trauma or witnessing it. Professionals who are exposed to the aftermath of trauma (for example, first responders to car crashes or violent deaths) in their daily work can also develop PTSD.
  • PTSD can also be caused by more long-term trauma such as ongoing sexual abuse of children or having a life-threatening medical illness as a child or adult.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2017
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Terrorist attacks, car accidents, abuse, rape, combat, and personal assaults are a few situations that may trigger PTSD.

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder »

The formal diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)was not introduced into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until its third publication in 1980.

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