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Learn More about PTSD Symptoms

Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be terrifying. They may disrupt your life and make it hard to continue with your daily activities. It may be hard just to get through the day.

PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not happen until months or years later. They also may come and go over many years. If the symptoms last longer than 4 weeks, cause you great distress, or interfere with your work or home life, you probably have PTSD.

Therapy can help decrease your symptoms. Your symptoms do not have to interfere with your everyday activities, work, and relationships.

Most people who go through a traumatic event have some symptoms at the beginning but do not develop PTSD.

There are four types of symptoms:

Reliving the event

Bad memories of the traumatic event can come back at any time. You may feel the same fear and horror you did when the event took place. You may feel like you are going through the event again. This is called a flashback. Sometimes there is a trigger: a sound or sight that causes you to relive the event. Triggers might include:

  • Hearing a car backfire
    • This can bring back memories of gunfire and combat.
  • Seeing a car accident
    • This can remind a survivor of his or her own accident.
  • Seeing a news report of a sexual assault
    • This may bring back memories of assault for a woman who was raped.

Avoiding situations that remind you of the event

You may try to avoid situations or people that trigger memories of the traumatic event. You may even avoid talking or thinking about the event. Avoidance behavior may include:

  • Avoiding watching television shows or movies that remind a person of the traumatic event
    • A combat veteran who avoids watching shows or movies about war.
  • Avoiding places that remind a person of the traumatic event
    • A person robbed at gunpoint avoids crowded places where they fear being attacked.
  • Avoiding thinking or talking about the event
    • A person may keep very busy or avoid seeking help to keep from having to think or talk about the event.

Feeling numb

You may find it hard to express your feelings. This is another way to avoid memories.

  • You may not have positive or loving feelings toward other people and may stay away from relationships
  • You may not be interested in activities you used to enjoy
  • You may forget about parts of the traumatic event or not be able to talk about them

Feeling keyed up

You may always be alert and on the lookout for danger. This is known as increased emotional arousal. It can cause you to:

  • Suddenly become angry or irritable
  • Have a hard time sleeping
  • Have trouble concentrating
  • Fear for your safety and always feel on guard
  • Startle when someone surprises you

Other symptoms

People with PTSD may also have other symptoms including:

  • Physical symptoms for no reason you can think of called somatic complaints
  • Feelings of shame, despair, or hopelessness
  • Difficulty controlling your emotions
  • Impulsive or self-destructive behavior
  • Changed beliefs or changed personality traits

PTSD in children and teens

Children can have PTSD too.

  • Young children may become upset if their parents are not close by, have trouble sleeping, or suddenly have trouble with toilet training or going to the bathroom
  • Children who are in the first few years of elementary school (ages 6 to 9) may act out the trauma through play, drawings, or stories. They may complain of physical problems or become more irritable or aggressive. They also may develop fears and anxiety that do not seem to be caused by the traumatic event
  • As children get older their symptoms are more like those of adults

Back to Symptoms

Reviewed/Updated Date: March 2009
Clinical Advisory Board Sponsor: Ken Weingardt
Clinical Subject Matter Experts: Jessica Hamblen, Anna Rosenberg
Patient Education Subject Matter Experts: Mara Davis

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