What Is PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that may develop after witnessing a deeply distressing or disturbing experience, or after experiencing a serious injury. PTSD can also develop after an event that involved just the threat of death or serious injury even if no one was killed or physically hurt. The essential characteristic of the type of experience associated with PTSD is that it involved feelings of intense fear and helplessness.

Symptoms of PTSD

An individual suffering from PTSD may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Chronic and sudden flashbacks of the traumatic incident
  • Nightmares and difficulty sleeping through the night
  • Gaps in memory of the traumatic incident
  • Easily agitated and startled
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Feelings of disinterest towards previous hobbies and activities

Causes of PTSD

Any event that causes intense fear and helplessness can cause PTSD. Importantly, it is the way in which the event is experienced by an individual, not the event itself, that causes PTSD. Thus, the emotional environment that a traumatic event takes place in and the amount of social support someone receives after experiencing a trauma may impact whether PTSD develops. Causes of PTSD may include:

  • Sexual/physical assault
  • Military experience
  • Violent childhoods
  • Genetics
  • Substance Abuse

Treatment for PTSD

PTSD is most effectively treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medications. Unfortunately, many people suffering from PTSD do not seek treatment because of their desire to avoid anything that triggers their symptoms, including talking about their traumatic experiences. For those who do seek help, the following options are available:

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  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A type of therapy that allows patients to see the connection between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The technique of CBT lies in the understanding of that connection and how it underlies and affects anxiety disorders.


  • Sertraline (Zoloft): A serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that increases the activity of neurons that use serotonin to transmit signals between them.
  • Paroxetine (Paxil): Another SSRI, paroxetine reduces anxiety experienced from PTSD.
  • Prazosin: Prazosin currently does not have an FDA indication for PTSD treatment. However, it is commonly used to treat nightmares associates with PTSD. Originally administered to treat enlarged prostates, Prazosin works by blocking one of the types of receptors for adrenaline and related hormones.

Date of original publication: April 04, 2013
Updated on: October 06, 2015