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If you witness or experience a traumatic event, it’s normal to have reactions that are consistent with the symptoms seen in PTSD.

These reactions are part of the natural emotions and coping response to stressful situations and often go away on their own within days, weeks, or months of the event. However, if these reactions persist longer than three months, do not lessen in intensity over time, and are disruptive to daily life, it is worthwhile to consider seeking help for PTSD.

Signs and symptoms of PTSD

PTSD is a real illness, with symptoms that a mental health professional can diagnose. The symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder fall into three groups.

Some symptoms can feel like reliving the experience. They may be triggered by reminders of the event, or arise out of person’s thoughts and feelings.

Symptoms of intrusive memories:

  • Vivid flashbacks, where it feels like the event is happening again
  • Repeated nightmares
  • Frightening and distressing thoughts or images that replay the event
  • Becoming distressed when reminded of the event by triggers in the environment
  • Strong physical reactions to anything that symbolizes or resembles the traumatic event

Additional symptoms have to do with avoidance behaviors. A person with PTSD may start withdrawing from their loved ones and changing their routines and activities.

Symptoms of avoidance:

  • Avoiding thoughts, feelings, or conversations related to the traumatic event
  • Staying away from activities, places, or people that are reminders of the events
  • Feeling less-intense emotions and feeling detached from others
  • Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma
  • Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
  • Having a sense of a foreshortened future, such as not expecting to have a career, marriage, children, or a normal life span

The third group of symptoms have to do with a persistent sense of heightened arousal.

Symptoms of heightened arousal:

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Angry outbursts and irritability
  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling tense or “on edge”


PTSD in children

Posttraumatic stress disorder can affect anyone at any age. While the symptoms of PTSD in children are largely the same as adults, they may also be accompanied by other features.

Behaviors that may accompany PTSD symptoms in children:

  • Not acting their age
  • Acting out the scary event, such as through repetitive play of the event
  • Being unusually clingy with a parent or other adult
  • Complaining of stomach problems or headaches
  • An increase in nightmares
  • Refusing to go places or play with friends
  • Increase in aggression or other personality change
  • Bedwetting after having been toilet trained

Related conditions

When providing care to a person experiencing PTSD symptoms, a healthcare provider will be on the lookout for other “co-occurring” conditions as well. It is common for individuals with PTSD to be dealing with other conditions.

Common “co-occurring” conditions:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety or panic symptoms
  • Drinking or drug abuse problems
  • Problems functioning in day-to-day life, such as difficulty holding down a job or completing tasks of daily living
  • Relationship problems that can lead to divorce or domestic violence
  • Physical illness and symptoms
  • Increased risk of impulsive behavior, including aggression and suicidal actions

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