Posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that can affect people who have witnessed or experienced a traumatic or terrifying event. Following any traumatic event, it’s normal for witnesses or participants to spend some time adjusting and coping. Ideally, good self-care and time help heal any psychological trauma, and life moves forward. With PTSD, the flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety that followed the event typically get worse as time goes on, and often interfere with daily life. Although symptoms can vary from person to person as well as over time, common symptoms include:
It’s not surprising that PTSD is most commonly thought of as a problem that affects combat veterans. After all, the disorder was called “shell shock” during World War I and “combat fatigue” during World War II. But PTSD may affect anyone who experiences or witnesses a traumatic event: Natural disasters, serious accidents, physical assault, and sexual assault are common causes of PTSD. But why do some people develop PTSD, while others don’t? Researchers aren’t exactly sure, but they believe that certain factors may increase a person’s likelihood of developing PTSD. Factors that increase PTSD risk include:
Because PTSD symptoms may begin anywhere from a few weeks to a few years after a traumatic experience, it’s challenging for those affected to realize there’s a serious problem. But getting effective treatment soon after symptoms develop can be essential to improvement. Although not everyone who develops PTSD requires psychiatric treatment to recover, it’s often quite helpful for those whose symptoms are particularly severe. Psychiatric care includes a thorough assessment followed by a suitable treatment approach, which may include cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, medication, and alternative treatments.
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