PTSD: Meaning, Causes, Types, Symptoms, Treatment


PTSD is as old as anyone could think of because as long as humans still exist, devastating events will keep occurring.

And some will be there to witness, while some will pass on after witnessing some will continue to breathe on.

Among those who continue to live will be divided into 2 major types; those who are not able to get over the horrific event mentally and those that accepted fate and moved on.

It is important to clarify the term PTSD well and know what it refers to and who are those that get affected by this disorder.

Therefore, a person who is exposed to a direct/indirect horrific, traumatic event is likely to be faced with PTSD.

Oftentimes people who are confronted with minor life challenges think they are suffering from PTSD which might be true or wrong.

This is because the acronym is beginning to gain more ground in places where it is not common.

What is PTSD? 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by recurring obsessive memories of a shocking traumatic event that begin up to 6 months after the event and persist for more than 1 month.

A traumatic event such as sexual assaultwarfaretraffic collisionschild abusedomestic violence, and/or other terrifying threats.

After a life-threatening situation, many people suffer for a long time, in some cases, their condition is so persistent and debilitating that it forms a painful disorder.

Typically, events that can trigger PTSD trigger feelings of fear, helplessness, or dread. 

These events can be experienced directly (for example, patients are severely injured or in mortal danger) or indirectly (for example, patients witnessed others being seriously injured, killed, or fatally threatened; or learned about events that happened to close relatives or friends). 

According to MD, Weill Cornell Medical College, and New York-Presbyterian Hospital  (2020) Their prevalence is approaching 9%, in a 12-month period the prevalence in the population is about 4%.

It is characteristic that the clinical symptoms of PTSD, as a rule, appear after a certain latency period after the traumatic event (from 3 to 18 weeks) and persist for a rather long time (months, years, and often decades).

Brief History of PTSD

Fragmentary descriptions of the signs of the post-traumatic syndrome are found in the works of historians and philosophers of ancient Greece, such as Herodotus and Lucretius. 

The characteristic symptoms of mental pathology in former soldiers, such as irritability, anxiety and influx of unpleasant memories, have long attracted the attention of scientists. 

However, the first scientific developments of this problem appeared much later. It was only in the middle of the 19th  century that the first comprehensive study was carried out.

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It revealed that in many former combatants is increased excitability, fixation on difficult memories of the past, a tendency to escape from reality, and a predisposition to uncontrollable aggression. 

At the end of the 19th  century, similar symptoms were described in patients who survived a train accident.

German doctors in the treatment of patients, participants in the hostilities of the First World War, found that the clinical signs of traumatic neurosis did not weaken, but intensified over the years.

Psychologists from many countries came to the same conclusion when faced with the phenomenon of “concentration camp prisoners” syndrome, when people who survived in inhuman conditions often voluntarily left an already calm and well-fed life, unable to overcome the consequences of severe psychological trauma. 

A similar picture was found by scientists studying the “survivor syndrome”. Pathological changes in the psyche of people who survived natural disasters – earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, etc. Painful memories and nightmares that bring anxiety and fear into real-life tormented victims of disasters for years and decades. 

As a result, the modern concept of a post-traumatic syndrome (PTSD) was formulated.

PTSD is one of the five most common psychological pathologies today. It is believed that about 7.8% of the world’s inhabitants suffer from PTSD throughout their lives. 

Moreover, women suffer much more often than men (5 and 10.2%, respectively).

It is known that post-traumatic stress, which is a physiological reaction to super severe trauma, does not always turn into a pathological state of PTSD. 

Much depends on the degree of involvement of a person in an extreme situation, for example, a witness, an active participant, a victim (including those who have suffered a severe trauma). 

The risk of developing PTSD also depends on the nature of the external stimulus. In addition, age and gender affect the risk of developing serious mental illness.

Children, women, and the elderly are more prone to PTSD than adult men. Therefore, when analyzing many clinical data, it was found that post-traumatic stress disorder develops within two years after a fire in 80% of children who have suffered severe burns, while for burned adults this figure is only 30%. 

The social conditions in which a person lives after a psychological shock are of great importance. 

It has been noted that the risk of developing PTSD is significantly reduced when the patient is surrounded by people who have undergone similar trauma.

There are individual characteristics that increase the risk of developing post-traumatic syndrome, such as burdened heredity (mental illness, suicide, alcohol, drug or other kinds of dependence in the next of kin); psychological trauma suffered in childhood; concomitant nervous, mental, or endocrine diseases; social loneliness (lack of family, close friends); difficult economic situation.

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Causes of PTSD

The main cause of PTSD is considered to be stress disorder following a tragic event. Based on this, the causal factors of this syndrome in an adult can be as follows:

  • various natural disasters;
  • a wide range of disasters;
  • terrorist attacks;
  • extensive and severe trauma of an individual nature;
  • child sexual abuse;
  • theft of a child;
  • the consequences of surgical intervention;
  • military actions often cause PTSD cider in males;
  • miscarriages very often lead to the manifestation of this disorder in women. Some of them then refuse to plan to have a child again;
  • a crime committed in front of a person;
  • thoughts about an incurable disease, both your own and loved ones.

Factors influencing the manifestation of PTSD in children:

  • domestic violence or child abuse. It is most acutely manifested due to the fact that parents themselves often inflict pain on their child, not only physically, but also morally;
  • undergone operations in early childhood;
  • divorce of parents. Children tend to blame themselves for their parents’ separation. In addition, stress is caused by the fact that the child will see less of one of them;
  • neglect by relatives;
  • conflicts at school. Quite often it happens that children gather in groups and bully someone in the class. This process is exacerbated by the fact that the child is intimidated so that he does not tell his parents;
  • violent acts in which the child either takes part or becomes a witness;
  • the death of a close relative can cause PTSD in children;
  • moving to another city or country;
  • adoption;
  • natural disasters or traffic accidents.

It is important to note that the aforementioned factors are not limited to those listed and can vary depending on individuals.

Symptoms of PTSD

  • Clinical criteria

The clinical diagnosis is based on the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).

To meet the diagnostic criteria, patients must have experienced a traumatic event directly or indirectly and must have had symptoms from each of the following categories for a period more than1 month:

Distortion symptoms

  • Repetitive, involuntary, intrusive disturbing memories
  • Recurring disturbing dreams (such as nightmares) about the event
  • The patient acts or feels as if the event is happening again; it can be different sensations, from flashbacks to a complete loss of awareness of the surrounding reality
  • Intense psychological or physiological discomfort when reminded of a traumatic event (for example, in the form of sounds similar to those heard by the patient during the event, or in the form of an anniversary of the event)
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Avoidance symptoms 

  • avoiding thoughts, feelings, or memories associated with the event;
  • avoiding actions, places, conversations, or people that evoke memories of the event;

Adverse effects on cognition and mood 

  • Loss of memory of important components of the event (dissociative amnesia);
  • Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations of yourself, others, or the world in general
  • Persistent distorted thoughts about the cause or consequences of the injury, leading to blaming yourself or others
  • Persistent negative emotional states (eg, fear, horror, anger, guilt, shame)
  • Significant decrease in interest or participation in important events
  • Feeling disconnected or alienated from other people;
  • Persistent inability to experience positive emotions (eg, happiness, contentment, feelings of love)

Altered level of consciousness and reactivity 

  • difficulty sleeping
  • irritability or outbursts of anger;
  • Unreasonable behavior or auto-aggression
  • Concentration problems
  • increased start reflex;
  • hypervigilance

In addition, the manifestations should cause significant discomfort or significantly impede social or professional activities, and should not be associated with the physiological effects of psychoactive substances or other diseases.

Types of PTSD syndrome

This is according to the International Classification of Diseases and the symptoms manifested:

  • anxious – the victim suffers from frequent bouts of anxiety and sleep disturbances. But such people tend to be in society, which reduces the manifestation of all symptoms;
  • asthenic – in this case, a person is characterized by apathy , indifference to the people around him and the events taking place. In addition, constant drowsiness appears. Patients with this type of syndrome agree to treatment;
  • dysphoric – people are characterized by frequent mood swings from calm to aggressive. Therapies are forced;
  • somatoform – the victim suffers not only from a mental disorder, but also feels painful symptoms, often manifested in the digestive tract, heart and head. As a rule, patients independently seek treatment from doctors


Methods for treating the syndrome for each patient are established individually, depending on the symptoms, type, and form of the disorder. 

The main method of getting rid of PTSD is psychotherapy. This method consists in conducting cognitive-behavioral treatment, during which the specialist needs to help get rid of the patient’s obsessive thoughts and correct his feelings and behavior.

Often, a method of therapy such as hypnosis treatment is prescribed. The session lasts one hour, during which the doctor needs to find out the full picture of the event and select the basic methods of therapy. The number of sessions is set for each patient on a personal basis.

In addition, additional drug treatment may be required, including:

  • antidepressants;
  • tranquilizers;
  • drugs that block adrenaline receptors;
  • antipsychotic medications.

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