What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?

National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Symptoms of PTSD

It is normal to have stress reactions after a traumatic event. Your emotions and behavior can change in ways that are upsetting to you. Even though most people have stress reactions following a trauma, they get better in time. But, you should seek help if symptoms:

  • Last longer than three months
  • Cause you great distress
  • Disrupt your work or home life

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Symptoms of PTSD may disrupt your life and make it hard to continue with your daily activities. You may find it hard just to get through the day.

There are four types of PTSD symptoms:

1. Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms)

Memories of the traumatic event can come back at any time. You may feel the same fear and horror you did when the event took place. For example:

  • You may have nightmares.
  • You may feel like you are going through the event again. This is called a flashback.
  • You may see, hear, or smell something that causes you to relive the event. This is called a trigger. News reports, seeing an accident, or hearing a car backfire are examples of triggers.

2. Avoiding situations that remind you of the event

You may try to avoid situations or people that trigger memories of the traumatic event. You may even avoid talking or thinking about the event. For example:

  • You may avoid crowds, because they feel dangerous.
  • You may avoid driving if you were in a car accident or if your military convoy was bombed.
  • If you were in an earthquake, you may avoid watching movies about earthquakes.
  • You may keep very busy or avoid seeking help because it keeps you from having to think or talk about the event.

3. Negative changes in beliefs and feelings

The way you think about yourself and others changes because of the trauma. This symptom has many aspects, including the following:

  • You may not have positive or loving feelings toward other people and may stay away from relationships.
  • You may forget about parts of the traumatic event or not be able to talk about them.
  • You may think the world is completely dangerous, and no one can be trusted.

4. Feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal)

You may be jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. You might suddenly become angry or irritable. This is known as hyperarousal. For example:

  • You may have a hard time sleeping.
  • You may have trouble concentrating.
  • You may be startled by a loud noise or surprise.
  • You might want to have your back to a wall in a restaurant or waiting room.

What should I do if I have symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event. But for some people, they may not happen until months or years after the trauma. Symptoms may come and go over many years. So, you should keep track of your symptoms and talk to someone you trust about them.

If you have symptoms that last longer than four weeks, cause you great distress, or disrupt your work or home life, you probably have PTSD. You should seek professional help from a doctor or counselor.

Posted on BrainLine August 13, 2015. Reviewed August 9, 2018.

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

Comments (5)

i am not a vet and have not experienced combat. But 7 days ago my husband suffered a pulmonary embololism - actually more than 15. I called 91 and he was in ICU for 4 days. The first two nights I thought he may die. He still has the clots but hopefully they will dissolve with treatment. There are many unknowns. I have found that I am very very anxious, wound up, touchy....llike I cant' handle anything. Even being asked to find something or where is something I fall apart. im really not myself at all.

I had ongoing sexual and emotional abuse as a child. I have always been triggered by emotional reminders of the abuse, such have have someone act like the person who caused the abuse. Right now I am going through a marital separation, and am having almost continuous panic attacks. I have a prescription for tranquilizers but am not having much luck. I also have a therapist, but I think what I need are some ideas on how to calm down

can worry or anxiety about being shipped and serving in a combat area cause or lead to PTSD? I'm a Nam era vet, never set foot in Asia, but saw many men sent there who didn't want to go. I have dreams of being powerless and have begun to physically throw myself around, attack my partner while I sleep, or throw myself out of bed.
I've become apt at hiding these feelings because I also am having medical issues.

My situation and yours are pretty much the same. I've never quite understood why I have these feelings and never have set foot in Southeast Asia. I recently began working with the VA for a disability and find anytime I go around anything to do with the military now I can't stop shaking. It's something I don't know not understand at all. But it's good to know I'm not the only one even though I still do not understand why.

I have no recollection of my event but have been having emotional feelings and it is so easy to cry now. When I hear anything bad happening to someone or on the other hand anything happy I tear up. It is quite upsetting to have that happen when in front of others. I also get upset easily. I immediately get mad and respond wrong to small matters. Then later regret that happening. I have always been low key in emotional settings and don't get mad easily. This has me very frustrated and wondering how to change this.