Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
What is PTSD?
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a disorder which causes disabling anxiety after a dangerous event, such as being in combat or a traffic accident. Individuals with PTSD cannot stop thinking about the event. They may relive the experience over and over in flashbacks or nightmares. The high level of anxiety of PTSD can lead to associated problems like panic attacks, depression, alcoholism and substance abuse.
PTSD affects 7.7 million adults, but it can affect children and the elderly. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. Sometimes someone whose loved one lived through a dangerous event will get PTSD.
How is PTSD diagnosed? Physicians group the symptoms into three categories:
- Re-experiencing symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, terrifying thoughts.
- Avoidance symptoms such as steering clear of anything that reminds the person of the experience, withdrawing emotionally or feeling strong guilt or anxiety
- Hyperarousal symptoms such as always feeling tense or being easily startled.
A person needs to demonstrate these symptoms for one month or more to be diagnosed with PTSD. If symptoms disappear within a month after a stressful event, it is labeled Acute Stress Disorder, or ASD.
PTSD often exists simultaneously with other physical symptoms of high stress such as digestive disorders, headaches, chest pain and dizziness. Be sure to tell your physician if you have experienced a traumatic event so she can diagnose and treat PTSD properly.
Psychotherapy and medication are two of the main treatments for PTSD. Antidepressants keep the symptoms in check, but do not treat the cause of PTSD. Talk therapy enables the PTSD sufferer to work through the event. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is deemed the most effective talk therapy for PTSD. A therapist may help the individual reframe the incident or may walk him through a process of systematic desensitization to lessen the impact of the event. Treatments last 3-6 months, or could take 1-2 years.
Relaxation techniques such as meditation reduce the stress experienced in PTSD and thus, provide relief to PTSD sufferers. A study of Vietnam War veterans suffering from PTSD demonstrated that after three months of doing the Transcendental Meditation technique, symptoms such as alcohol usage, high startle response, emotional numbness and anxiety decreased as compared to a control group who received only psychotherapy. Research indicates that meditation has a positive effect on problems that often arise in PTSD sufferers, such as hypertension (pdf), depression, and substance abuse.
Recovery from PTSD usually takes some time, but adding relaxation techniques such as meditation, may speed up the process.
- Risk Factors for PTSD
- How to Prevent PTSD
- Causes of PTSD
- Symptoms of PTSD
- Treatment of PTSD
- Meditation and PTSD
- The National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (Federal VA):
- The PTSD Information Center contains in-depth information on PTSD and traumatic stress for a general audience. We answer commonly asked questions about the effects of trauma, including basic information about PTSD and other common reactions. You can find out about treatment and coping or view videos to learn more.
- For Survivors of Trauma
- Information for Victims of Crime
- Military Veterans PTSD Manual
Need help with PTSD
To file a claim for PTSD contact a Veteran Service officer.
VA’s mobile applications (apps) provide self-help, education and support. We also have treatment companion apps, for use with a health care provider, to make treatment easier. There are apps for iOS and Android devices.
PTSD is a serious mental health condition that often needs professional evaluation and treatment. These apps are not intended to replace needed professional care.
- PTSD Coach - This mobile app is to help you learn about and cope with the symptoms related to PTSD that commonly occur following trauma.
- PTSD Family Coach coming soon.
Treatment Companion Apps
- PE Coach - A mobile app to be used during Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy with a mental health professional. PE Coach is not a self-help tool.