PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not occur until months or years later. They also may come and go over many years. If the symptoms last longer than 4 weeks, cause great distress, or interfere with work or homelife, the individual probably has PTSD. There are four types of PTSD symptoms:
1. Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms):
Bad memories of the traumatic event can return at any time. The Veteran may feel the same fear and horror as when the event took place. He/she may have nightmares or may feel like he/she is going through the event again. This is called a flashback. Sometimes there is a trigger — a sound or sight that causes the Veteran to relive the event. Triggers might include:
Hearing a car backfire, which can bring back memories of gunfire and war for a combat Veteran.
Seeing a car accident, which can remind a crash survivor of his or her own accident
Seeing a news report of a sexual assault, which may bring back memories of assault for a woman who was raped
2. Avoiding situations that are reminders of the event:
The Veteran may try to avoid situations or people that trigger memories of the traumatic event, and even avoid talking or thinking about the event. For example:
A person who was in an earthquake may avoid watching television shows or movies in which there are earthquakes.
A person who was robbed at gunpoint while ordering at a hamburger drive-in may avoid fast-food restaurants.
Some people may keep very busy or avoid seeking help. This keeps them from having to think or talk about the event.
3. Feeling numb:
The Veteran may find it hard to express feelings. This is another way to avoid memories. He/she may not:
have positive or loving feelings toward other people and may stay away from relationships
be interested in previously enjoyed activities
be able to remember parts of the traumatic event or be able to talk about them
4. Feeling keyed up (also called hyper-arousal):
The Veteran may be jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. This is known as hyper-arousal. It can cause:
Sudden anger or irritation
Difficulty sleeping and concentration
Fear for personal safety and a constant need to be on guard
Overreaction when something surprises him/her.
Other common problems
People with PTSD may also have other problems. These include:
Drinking or drug problems
Feelings of hopelessness, shame, or despair
Relationship problems, including divorce and violence
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