Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Symptoms)

Many people with PTSD tend to re-experience the ordeal that set the disease in motion, 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, sleep disturbances, anxiety, intense guilt, depression, irritability, or outbursts of anger. Most people with PTSD try to avoid any reminders or thoughts of the ordeal. PTSD is diagnosed when symptoms last more than one month.

Symptoms associated with reliving the traumatic event:

  • Having bad dreams about the event or something similar
  • Behaving or feeling as if the event were actually happening all over again (known as flashbacks)
  • Having a lot of emotional feelings when reminded of the event
  • Having a lot of physical sensations when reminded of the event (heart pounds or misses a beat, sweating, difficulty breathing, feeling faint, feeling a loss of control)

Symptoms related to avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event:

• Avoiding thoughts, conversations, or feelings about the event
• Avoiding people, activities, or places associated with the event
• Having difficulty remembering an important part of the original trauma
• Emotional "numbing," or feeling as though you don't care about anything
• Feelings of detachment
• Lack of interest in normal activities
• Less expression of moods
• Sense of having no future

Arousal symptoms:

• Sleeping Difficulties including trouble falling or staying asleep
• Irritability and outbursts of anger
• Difficulty concentrating
• Feeling easily startled
• Excess Awareness (hypervigilance)

Medical or emotional issues:

• Stomach upset, trouble eating
• Trouble sleeping & exhaustion
• Pounding heart, rapid breathing, edginess
• Severe headache if thinking of the event, sweating
• Failure to engage in exercise, diet, safe sex, regular health care
• Excess smoking, alcohol, drugs, food
• Worsening of chronic medical problems

Symptoms of Complex PTSD are quite different. The first requirement for the diagnosis is that the individual experienced a prolonged period (months to years) of total control by another. The other criteria are symptoms that tend to result from chronic victimization. Those symptoms include alterations in emotional regulation which may include persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts, explosive anger, or inhibited anger, alterations in consciousness such as forgetting traumatic events, reliving traumatic events, or having episodes in which one feels detached from one's mental processes or body as well as changes in self-perception which may include a sense of helplessness, shame, guilt, stigma, and a sense of being completely different than other human beings. Other symptoms are alterations in the perception of the perpetrator which may include attributing total power to the perpetrator or becoming preoccupied with the relationship to the perpetrator, including a preoccupation with revenge and alterations in relations with others which may include variations in personal relations including isolation, distrust, or a repeated search for a rescuer. Finally, changes in one's system of meanings may include a loss of sustaining faith or a sense of hopelessness and despair.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Last reviewed 12/31/1969
  • American Journal of Psychiatry
  • Journal of Psychopharmacology
  • Journal of Traumatic Stress
  • National Comorbidity Survey Replication
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Annual Review of Psychology
  • National Institutes of Health - National Library of Medicine
  • National Institute of Mental Health
  • US Department of Health and Human Services
  • Hippocampal Volume in Women Victimized by Childhood Sexual Abuse.
  • National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Canadian Journal of Psychiatry
  • Psychiatric Clinics of North America