PTSD Fact Sheet: Frequently Asked Questions

National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
PTSD Fact Sheet: Frequently Asked Questions

What is PTSD?

PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.

It's normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping after this type of event. At first, it may be hard to do normal daily activities, like go to work, go to school, or spend time with people you care about. But most people start to feel better after a few weeks or months.

If it's been longer than a few months and you're still having symptoms, you may have PTSD. For some people, PTSD symptoms may start later on, or they may come and go over time.


Who develops PTSD?

PTSD can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of weakness. A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will have PTSD, many of which are not under that person's control. For example, having a very intense or long-lasting traumatic event or getting injured during the event can make it more likely that a person will develop PTSD. PTSD is also more common after certain types of trauma, like combat and sexual assault.


How common is PTSD?

Here are some facts (based on the U.S. population):

  • About 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (or 7-8% of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives.
  • About 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year. This is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma.
  • About 10 of every 100 women (or 10%) develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with about 4 of every 100 men (or 4%). Learn more about women, trauma and PTSD.

Personal factors, like previous traumatic exposure, age, and gender, can affect whether or not a person will develop PTSD. What happens after the traumatic event is also important. Stress can make PTSD more likely, while social support can make it less likely.

Learn more: How Common is PTSD?


What are the symptoms of PTSD?

There are four type of PTSD symptoms: reliving the event (nightmares, flashbacks, or triggers), avoiding situations that remind you of the event, negative changes in beliefs and feelings, and feeling keyed up (hyperarousal). Symptoms may not be exactly the same for everyone. PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not appear until months or years later. They also may come and go over many years. If the symptoms last longer than four weeks, cause you great distress, or interfere with your work or home life, you might have PTSD.

Learn more: Symptoms of PTSD


What can I do if I think I have PTSD?

The only way to know for sure if you have PTSD is to talk to a mental health care provider. Take the Self-Screen for PTSD (PC-PTSD-5), to learn if your symptoms suggest you should talk to a provider.

Read What Can I Do If I Think I Have PTSD? for more information on how to seek help and why it matters.


Will people with PTSD get better?

"Getting better" means different things for different people. There are many different treatment options for PTSD. For many people, these treatments can get rid of symptoms altogether. Others find they have fewer symptoms or feel that their symptoms are less intense. Your symptoms don't have to interfere with your everyday activities, work, and relationships.


What treatments are available for PTSD?

There are two main types of treatment, psychotherapy (sometimes called counseling or talk therapy) and medication. Sometimes people combine psychotherapy and medication.

Psychotherapy for PTSD

Psychotherapy, or counseling, involves meeting with a therapist.

  • Trauma-focused psychotherapy, which focuses on the memory of the traumatic event or its meaning, is the most effective treatment for PTSD. There are different types of trauma-focused psychotherapy, such as:
    • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) where you learn skills to understand how trauma changed your thoughts and feelings. Changing how you think about the trauma can change how you feel.
    • Prolonged Exposure (PE) where you talk about your trauma repeatedly until memories are no longer upsetting. This will help you get more control over your thoughts and feelings about the trauma. You also go to places or do things that are safe, but that you have been staying away from because they remind you of the trauma.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which involves focusing on sounds or hand movements while you talk about the trauma. This helps your brain work through the traumatic memories.

Medications for PTSD

Medications can be effective too. Some specific SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), which are used for depression, also work for PTSD. These include sertraline, paroxetine, fluoxetine, and venlafaxine.

IMPORTANT: Benzodiazepines and atypical antipsychotics should generally be avoided for PTSD treatment because they do not treat the core PTSD symptoms and can be addictive.


Who do I contact for help with PTSD? How do I locate specialists or support groups for PTSD?


How can I help a family member who has PTSD?

It is important to learn about PTSD so you can understand why it happened, how it is treated, and what you can do to help. But you also need to take care of yourself. Changes in family life are stressful, and taking care of yourself will make it easier to cope. Learn more: Helping a Family Member Who Has PTSD


As a professional, I need to locate a specific assessment instrument for PTSD. How do I do that?

Proper assessment of trauma exposure and PTSD is best accomplished with validated measures. You will find information and online courses about assessment tools and best practices on the National Center for PTSD website, here: PTSD Information for Professionals: Assessment Overview. There you will find information on a variety of measures assessing trauma and PTSD. These measures are intended for use by qualified mental health professionals and researchers. Measures authored by the National Center for PTSD staff are available as direct downloads or by request. Measures developed outside of the National Center can be requested via contact information available on the information page for the specific measure. See a list of all measures or see Using PILOTS for Assessment Information.

Posted on BrainLine November 28, 2017. Reviewed July 26, 2018.

From the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, US Department of Veterans Affairs. www.ptsd.va.gov.

Comments (165)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

As a therapist working extensively with combat soldiers, it is important to get the soldier to recognize the problems and then get them to a Vet Center (a part of the VA medical system0 and allow them to help the vet.
I am the mother of a teenager, both of us diagnosed with PTSD, status post, a home invasion robbery. I would like the person, or does anyone know the person that left the following comment: Nov 21st, 2009 8:21pm Hi, I am diagnosed with PTSD, and have been in counseling for 3 years now every Thursday. I have terrible nightmares every night, and when I am in or around anyone that acts like my father, I start to panic, and can't calm down, like other people are able to do. I have feelings of dispar so often that I can't get into direction, or any where in my life. I feel that I am always just surviving all of the things that scare me so much. I feel like such a looser, I am alone,because I can't be in a relationship due to all of my symptoms, men just don't understand, and neither do I. I have taken drugs to make myself be and feel normal. That is the only thing that makes me feel like living, and I know that I can't safely do this, I am so stuck, I HAVE TO SURVIVE THIS!!! I just have to be able to get through college and make something of myself, but all of the symptoms of the PTSD just become overwhelming!!! I truly do wish that if I have to continue with all of these symptoms, that I could just go to sleep forever. I am 53 years old and I have had so many awful things happen to me. Has anyone else had this happen to them, and how did you survive??? Please help me!!! Okay, this is jenniecouvelis@gmail.com. Send me any info to contact this woman. She is desperate for help, and I can really relate to her feelings of hopelessness and fear. I can also be contacted on Twitter @Medusarants or Facebook: IanoullaKouveli. My son and I have been living with PTSD for 5 years. I am back in college, (retired atty,psych tech/med asst), going for a degree in Psychology. My major is PTSD. I am 49. My son is 14. Anyone else who wishes to contact me, please feel free to do so. We have to come together. Alone, this illness will defeat each of us: Together, we can over come it.
I am a veteran of WWII - B-17 bomber pilot. Brother killed at Salerno. BUT humiliated and trautomized as I was with killing thousands of civilians in cities I bombed, after the war - after going through a period of total rejection of my former and trivial social life - I was an actor - I was pulled out of my lethargy, anger and frustration. I decided to DO SOMETHING ABOUT WAR ITSELF. IT WAS A THERAPY! In short, the "therapy" for vets is to figure out how to ELIMINATE WAR which put them into a PTSD condition in the first place. WE FEEL GUILTY AND HUMILIATED! We must expiate that guilt, humiliation and anger. The society we left is the same old, same old. How many vets have had two, three tours? Madness. I figured it out. War is a losers game. But reciprocally, peace is the opposite and I don't mean what the national leaders call "peace." Hell, world wars started in 1914. Since 1945, wars became obsolete. Now the gun is aimed at humanity itself. Are we all crazy? No wonder vets go crazy, commit suicide, murder their wives and kids. The solution is self-evident. BE A WORLD PEACEMAKER! HOW? GET RID OF THE MYTH OF "NATIONAL SECURITY." ONLY WORLD SECURITY IN OUR CENTURY IS RATIONAL, MORAL AND POSSIBLE. CLAIM WORLD CITIZENSHIP! That's the "cure" for PTSD. I did it so I am an example. Call me. 802-864-6818.
i have PSTD because of my backround. i was abused by my parents, i was sexually abused by men. if i get too scared, depressed, anything with my emotions, it happens. its hard to survive. but ik i have to.
My heart goes out to my fellow veterans who are currently suffering or have suffered from PTSD. There is a very strong stigma, especially for males to seek treatment because they think others might find them weak. PTSD is very serious and it is very real, if you have any of these symptoms, please see a VA rep in your area to start tackling your problems before they manifest into something that becomes too unbarable to deal with. Thank you to all of you who have served your country honorably. Semper Fi and God speed.
Hi, I am diagnosed with PTSD, and have been in counseling for 3 years now every Thursday. I have terrible nightmares every night, and when I am in or around anyone that acts like my father, I start to panic, and can't calm down, like other people are able to do. I have feelings of dispar so often that I can't get into direction, or any where in my life. I feel that I am always just surviving all of the things that scare me so much. I feel like such a looser, I am alone,because I can't be in a relationship due to all of my symptoms, men just don't understand, and neither do I. I have taken drugs to make myself be and feel normal. That is the only thing that makes me feel like living, and I know that I can't safely do this, I am so stuck, I HAVE TO SURVIVE THIS!!! I just have to be able to get through college and make something of myself, but all of the symptoms of the PTSD just become overwhelming!!! I truly do wish that if I have to continue with all of these symptoms, that I could just go to sleep forever. I am 53 years old and I have had so many awful things happen to me. Has anyone else had this happen to them, and how did you survive??? Please help me!!!
im doing a project on ptsd and this is a great websitee.
My father is a 59-year-old vietnam veteran, and he has PTSD. He was diagnosed last year. He suffers so much with night terrors and depression. I see first hand what he goes through on a daily basis(his changes in moods, behavior, personality; the doctors,meds,& counselors). He goes through so much, and I have so much more respect for him and love him for fighting for his country in a time they needed him. I have the upmost respect for every veteran and thank you all for everything you've done to make this country what it is today.
good document on ptsd. Semper fi
I am dating a guy who is an Iraq-war Vet...he has PTSD and it can make a peson really fearfull of a lot of things and very gaurded with their emotions, I have found. Not to mention the night terrors, and horrible dreams he has constantly.
I have spent my whole life, in and out of institutions after suicide attempts, debilitating depression, anxiety, nightmares, etc; everything that points to PTSD. It is only now that I have been properly diagnosed.Finally all the pieces fit and it all makes sense. All of those doctors in all of those states I lived in and no one knew why I am suffering. I am 61 yrs old and it is only now that I am learning how to live with this. My whole life is practically gone.
I have been dealing with this crap for 40 yr I am a viet nam vet.If you think you have ptsd this information is something to take heed of there is no cure just learning to deal with it and meds.Also as you get help take the ones you love and let them in on what is going on seek a counsler with them if you can. Semper Fi
I ALSO WAKE UP AFTER A VERY BAD NITE OF HORRIBLE DREAMS AND I TAKE OUT MY ANGER AND DEPRESSION ON THE PPL THAT I LOVE AND THAT LOVE ME.....I RECENTLY TOOK THE FIRST STEP IN GETTING HELP BUT IM STILL SOOO DEPRESSED!!!!
I WAKE UP IN THE MORNING SOMETIMES SO ANGRY FOR NO REASON I MEAN REALLY BITCY MAD I DON'T UNDERSTAND WHY AND THEY DIAGNOSE ME WITH PTSD AND ADHD EVEN IF MY MOOD SWINGS ARE CONSTANTLY CHANGING DOES THIS MAKE ANY SENCE AT ALL
good document on PTSD.

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