Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can develop after exposure to extremely stressful and traumatising events. People experiencing PTSD may have symptoms such as flashbacks or panic attacks. PTSD can be treated, so it is important to seek help and support.

PTSD can develop in response to exposure to an extremely stressful or traumatic event, or an exceptionally threatening situation.1 Examples include rape, violent attack, severe accidents, sudden destruction of home or community, or harm to close relatives or friends.

Feelings of distress, and symptoms such as nightmares, or difficulty sleeping, can be a common reaction to experiencing a traumatic event. However, if these difficulties are severe and enduring, and impact negatively on someone’s ability to live life to the fullest, then this may be indicative of PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD

Common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Re-experiencing the event in nightmares or flashbacks
  • Avoiding things or places associated with the event
  • Panic attacks
  • Sleep disturbance and poor concentration.2

People experiencing PTSD may also be at higher risk of:

  • Depression
  • Difficulties managing anger
  • Misuse drugs or alcohol.3

Types of PTSD

PTSD is sometimes categorised by the severity of the symptoms experienced, and can be described as: mild, moderate, or severe.4

There are several different types of PTSD including:

Complex PTSD 

Is typically diagnosed in adults or children who have experienced prolonged, repeated trauma, such as childhood sexual or physical abuse.5

Birth Trauma 

Which refers to PTSD which occurs after a traumatic childbirth experience.6

Delayed-onset PTSD 

Which can be used to refer to symptoms which develop later (as opposed to immediately, or shortly) following a traumatic event.

Treatment

There are treatments and support available for PTSD.

The most effective therapeutic approach for long-term, severe PTSD appears to be talking treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, during which people are encouraged to talk through their experiences in detail.7,8 This may involve behavioural or cognitive therapeutic approaches.

Antidepressants may also be prescribed to relieve depression, which can be common among people who experience PTSD.9

Talk to your GP or another healthcare professional if you are worried about yourself or others.

References

1. Yehuda, R., Hoge, C., McFarlane, A., Vermetten, E., Lanius, R., & Nievergelt, C. et al. (2015). Post-traumatic stress disorder. Nature Reviews Disease Primers, 15057.

2. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/symptoms/

3. Jacobsen, L., Southwick, S., & Kosten, T. (2001). Substance Use Disorders in Patients With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Review of the Literature. American Journal Of Psychiatry, 158(8), 1184-1190.

4. McCarthy, S. (2008). Post-Traumatic Stress Diagnostic Scale (PDS). Occupational Medicine, 58(5), 379-379.

5. Cloitre, M., Courtois, C., Charuvastra, A., Carapezza, R., Stolbach, B., & Green, B. (2011). Treatment of complex PTSD: Results of the ISTSS expert clinician survey on best practices. Journal Of Traumatic Stress, 24(6), 615-627.

6. Beck, C. (2004). Birth Trauma. Nursing Research, 53(1), 28-35.

7. Zoellner, L., Feeny, N., Cochran, B., & Pruitt, L. (2003). Treatment choice for PTSD. Behaviour Research And Therapy, 41(8), 879-886.

8. NICE. (2005). Post-traumatic stress disorder: management. Retrieved from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg26/chapter/1-Guidance#the-treatment-o...

9. Campbell, D., Felker, B., Liu, C., Yano, E., Kirchner, J., & Chan, D. et al. (2007). Prevalence of Depression–PTSD Comorbidity: Implications for Clinical Practice Guidelines and Primary Care-based Interventions. Journal Of General Internal Medicine, 22(6), 711-718.