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Anxiety and Stress Disorders

Understanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that may occur following a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, terrorist incident, military combat, violent personal assault or a serious accident.

People suffering from PTSD may experience nightmares or flashbacks, have trouble sleeping, or feel detached from life in general. Left untreated, post traumatic stress disorder can lead to further problems, including depression, alcohol or drug abuse, marital and other personal relationship problems, as well as possible job loss.

The History of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Historical medical literature reveals a psychiatric condition, with symptoms similar to post traumatic stress disorder, dating back to the United States Civil War. Combat veterans of World War II and Holocaust survivors were also documented as having suffered from PTSD-like symptoms.

The term, post traumatic stress disorder, was coined in 1980 as research into the condition began in earnest following the Vietnam War. PTSD has been observed in those involved in the Persian Gulf War and in United Nations peacekeeping forces deployed to other war zones.

Post traumatic stress disorder is not limited to war veterans. It can affect men and women, adults and children, from Western and non-Western cultural groups of all social and economic backgrounds.


How Common is PTSD?

It is estimated that 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. During any given year, 3.6 percent of U.S. adults, ages 18-54 (5.2 million people), suffer from PTSD. Women are twice as likely as men to develop post traumatic stress disorder. Men and women who have spent time in war zones have a 30 percent likelihood of experiencing PTSD.


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Children

Some children will develop PTSD following a terrorist attack or other traumatic event. Information collected following the 1995 Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building attack revealed the following:

If your child or adolescent exhibits severe or prolonged reactions to a traumatic event, you may need to seek assistance from a mental health counselor. Referrals to counselors with experience working with children as well as trauma survivors can be obtained through the American Psychological Association.


Recognizing Stress Reactions vs. Symptoms

Normal stress reactions following a traumatic event may last for several days to a few weeks. However, severe stress symptoms persist and can lead to lasting post traumatic stress disorder, if left untreated.


Normal Stress Reactions


Severe Stress Symptoms


Treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

The test approach for treating PTSD is often a combination of medication and some form of psychotherapy or counseling. For additional information on these treatments visit the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.


How to Get Help



For Additional Information:

National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

United States Veterans Administration

National Institute of Mental Health


American Psychological Association

The information in this article is based on "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: From Terror to Trauma", presented October 7, 2003 at The Ohio State University Mini Med School, and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2007.

For more information:

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Last Reviewed: May 03, 2007

Stephen F Pariser, MD Stephen F Pariser, MD
Faculty Emeritus
Professor of Psychiatry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University