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What Is Post-Traumatic Stress?

For some people, frightening memories of a terrible event can resurface months or even years after the ordeal. In reliving the event, people become fearful and unable to cope with daily life. Mental health experts call this post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a type of anxiety disorder.

One of the biggest myths about post-traumatic stress is that it occurs most often in war veterans. In fact, women are most at risk, especially those who have experienced interpersonal violence, such as rape, or domestic abuse as children or adults.

Others who are more likely to develop PTSD include:

  • Children who are neglected or abused

  • Survivors of terrible accidents, fires, or natural disasters

  • Emergency response workers, such as police, firefighters, and medical professionals

  • Victims or veterans of war

Telltale symptoms

People with PTSD feel anxious and hyper-alert, like their life is out of control. They know something is wrong, but they often don’t connect what they’re feeling now to a traumatic event in their past. In an attempt to feel safe, they withdraw emotionally from others.

Other signs of PTSD include:

  • Frequent nightmares, flashbacks, or other vivid memories of the event

  • Being unable to recall parts of the event

  • Avoiding any reminders of the event, including people, places, thoughts, or activities

  • Feeling constantly on guard or edgy

  • Difficulty sleeping

The most effective treatment for PTSD is a combination of professional counseling and medication. Because people with this condition tend to isolate themselves, family members play a vital role in encouraging victims to get the help they need. With treatment, people can feel better very quickly. Talking with a family doctor or mental health professional is a good place to start.

For more information, visit the National Center for PTSD website, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.


Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Roux, Susan L., ARNP
Last Review Date: 8/31/2013
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