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Trauma Disorders:

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.

Among those who may experience PTSD are military troops who served in the Vietnam and Gulf Wars; rescue workers involved in the aftermath of disasters like the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.; survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing; survivors of accidents, rape, physical and sexual abuse, and other crimes; immigrants fleeing violence in their countries; survivors of the 1994 California earthquake, the 1997 North and South Dakota floods, and hurricanes Hugo and Andrew; and people who witness traumatic events. Family members of victims also can develop the disorder. PTSD can occur in people of any age, including children and adolescents.

Many people with PTSD repeatedly re-experience the ordeal in the form of flashback episodes, memories, nightmares, or frightening thoughts, especially when they are exposed to events or objects reminiscent of the trauma. Anniversaries of the event can also trigger symptoms. People with PTSD also experience emotional numbness and sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, and irritability or outbursts of anger. Feelings of intense guilt are also common. Most people with PTSD try to avoid any reminders or thoughts of the ordeal. PTSD is diagnosed when symptoms last more than 1 month.

Physical symptoms such as headaches, gastrointestinal distress, immune system problems, dizziness, chest pain, or discomfort in other parts of the body are common in people with PTSD. Often, doctors treat these symptoms without being aware that they stem from an anxiety disorder.

Facts About PTSD

  • An estimated 5.2 million American adults ages 18 to 54, or approximately 3.6 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have PTSD.

  • About 30 percent of Vietnam veterans developed PTSD at some point after the war. The disorder also has been detected among veterans of the Persian Gulf War, with some estimates running as high as 8 percent.

  • More than twice as many women as men experience PTSD following exposure to trauma.

  • Depression, alcohol or other substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders frequently co-occur with PTSD. The likelihood of treatment success is increased when these other conditions are appropriately diagnosed and treated as well.

Treatments for PTSD

PTSD can be extremely debilitating. Fortunately, research including studies supported by NIMH and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)?has led to the development of treatments to help people with PTSD.
Studies have demonstrated the efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, and exposure therapy, in which the person gradually and repeatedly re-lives the frightening experience under controlled conditions to help him or her work through the trauma. Studies also have found that several types of medication, particularly the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and other antidepressants, can help relieve the symptoms of PTSD.

Other research shows that giving people an opportunity to talk about their experiences very soon after a catastrophic event may reduce some of the symptoms of PTSD. A study of 12,000 schoolchildren who lived through a hurricane in Hawaii found that those who got counseling early on were doing much better 2 years later than those who did not.

Anxiety Disorders Research at the National Institute of Mental Health

More than 19 million adult Americans ages 18 to 54 have anxiety disorders. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) supports research into the causes, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses. This research is conducted both in the Institute's intramural laboratories and in biomedical research institutions across the country. Studies examine the genetic and environmental risks for major anxiety disorders, their course, both alone and when they co-occur with other illnesses such as heart disease or depression, and their treatment. Scientists seek to discover the basis of anxiety disorders in the brain and their effects on the functioning of the brain and other organs. The ultimate goal is to be able to cure, and perhaps even to prevent, anxiety disorders.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

The term anxiety disorders encompasses several clinical conditions:

  • panic disorder, in which feelings of extreme fear and dread strike unexpectedly and repeatedly for no apparent reason, accompanied by intense physical symptoms

  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), characterized by intrusive, unwanted, repetitive thoughts and rituals performed out of a feeling of urgent need

  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a reaction to a terrifying event that keeps returning in the form of frightening, intrusive memories and brings on hypervigilance and deadening of normal emotions

  • phobias, including specific phobia a fear of an object or situation and social phobia a fear of extreme embarrassment

  • generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), exaggerated worry and tension over everyday events and decisions

If you or a loved one suffers from a trauma disorder or an anxiety disorder, our mental health consultants can provide you with treatment recommendations and assist you with addiction treatment placement today. Please call us and allow us to assist in you in your quest for the right mental health treatment placement today - free of charge.

Researched content from this page is from Anxiety Disorders Research at the National Institute of Mental Health

Archived publication. An overview that summarizes research into the causes, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of anxiety disorders.

This site does not provide specific medical advice or addiction treatment; these materials may not be used in a manner that has the appearance of such information.