Posttraumatic Stress Disorder - Symptoms

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What are PTSD symptoms and signs?

The following three groups of symptom criteria are required to assign the diagnosis of PTSD:

  • Recurrent re-experiencing of the trauma (for example, troublesome memories, flashbacks that are usually caused by reminders of the traumatic events, recurring nightmares about the trauma and/or dissociative reliving of the trauma)
  • Avoidance to the point of having a phobia of places, people, and experiences that remind the sufferer of the trauma or a general numbing of emotional responsiveness
  • Chronic physical signs of hyperarousal, including sleep problems, trouble concentrating, irritability, anger, poor concentration, blackouts or difficulty remembering things, increased tendency and reaction to being startled, and hypervigilance (excessive watchfulness) to threat

The emotional numbing of PTSD may present as a lack of interest in activities that used to be enjoyed (anhedonia), emotional deadness, distancing oneself from people, and/or a sense of a foreshortened future (for example, not being able to think about the future or make future plans, not believing one will live much longer). At least one re-experiencing symptom, three avoidance/numbing symptoms, and two hyperarousal symptoms must be present for at least one month and must cause significant distress or functional impairment in order for the diagnosis of PTSD to be assigned. PTSD is considered of chronic duration if it persists for three months or more.

A similar disorder in terms of symptom repertoire is acute stress disorder. The major differences between the two disorders are that acute stress disorder symptoms persist from two days to four weeks, and a fewer number of traumatic symptoms are required to make the diagnosis as compared to PTSD.

In children, re-experiencing the trauma may occur through repeated play that has trauma-related themes instead of or in addition to memories, and distressing dreams may have more general content rather than of the traumatic event itself. As in adults, at least one re-experiencing symptom, three avoidance/numbing symptoms, and two hyperarousal symptoms must be present for at least one month and must cause significant distress or functional impairment in order for the diagnosis of PTSD to be assigned. When symptoms have been present for less than one month, a diagnosis of acute stress disorder (ASD) can be made.

Symptoms of PTSD that tend to be associated with C-PTSD include problems regulating feelings, which can result in suicidal thoughts, explosive anger, or passive aggressive behaviors; a tendency to forget the trauma or feel detached from one's life (dissociation) or body (depersonalization); persistent feelings of helplessness, shame, guilt, or being completely different from others; feeling the perpetrator of trauma is all-powerful and preoccupation with either revenge against or allegiance with the perpetrator; and severe change in those things that give the sufferer meaning, like a loss of spiritual faith or an ongoing sense of helplessness, hopelessness, or despair.

Return to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

See what others are saying

Comment from: jazzybet, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: February 10

I was in a stalking situation 30 years ago, I was kidnapped, strangled and left for dead. I almost lost my life during a four month period of time five times. I was also molested by my grandfather when I was 13 years old. I thought I was fine for 30 years. One day due to stress from a job that I was trying to be perfect at, I couldn't sleep for 3 days. I started to relive the past horror, and started having anxiety attacks, nightmares, and found myself sleeping in a closet. I finally got help after all these years. I still take medication and go to therapy every two weeks. It has been 9 years and I have been off work, and avoid most public places, and fear dark places like movies. I haven't had a successful relationship personal or romantic. Get help as soon as you can is my advice. I walked away from my family and didn't see them for years. I don't participate in family events. And I am now known as the strange aunt. Medication and therapy saved my life.

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Comment from: Lknva, 25-34 Female (Patient) Published: February 24

It was a shooting at home outside involving a crazy neighbor and I was standing right there when it happened. He shot my dog in the face. Dog lived and no he didn't bite the guy but anyway. Ever since I have such fear and panic about doors being opened. It took me 9 months to wear what I had on that day again, and realize that my outfit would not cause the scene to repeat. The shooting was on a Friday morning so I was nervous on Friday mornings for a couple of months. I have nightmares about the neighbor being out to get me and my family since we're all still living in the same places and it's been almost a year. We're looking to move soon and I look forward to that and think it will make a big difference.

Was this comment helpful?Yes

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