Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, abbreviated PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat. The more frequent or severe the traumatic experience, the more drastic the symptomes.

Signs and Symptoms:

People with PTSD have persistent frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal and feel emotionally numb, especially with people they were once close to. They may experience sleep problems, feel detached or numb, or be easily startled. Many victims lack a sense of basic trust and a sense of hopelessness, often leading to learned helplessness. This is when a person feels that they have no control over the things that happen to them, so they might as well accept it. Virtually any trauma, defined as an event that is life-threatening or that severely compromises the emotional well-being of an individual or causes intense fear, may cause PTSD. (

Three groups of symptoms are required to diagnose a patient with PTSD.

  1. Recurrent re-experiencing of the trauma (for example, troublesome memories, flashbacks that are usually caused by reminders of the traumatic events, recurring nightmares about the trauma and/or dissociative reliving of the trauma)
  2. Avoidance to the point of having a phobia of places, people, and experiences that remind the sufferer of the trauma and a general numbing of emotional responsiveness
  3. Chronic physical signs of hyperarousal, including sleep problems, trouble concentrating, irritability, anger, poor concentration, blackouts or difficulty remembering things, increased tendency and reaction to being startled, and hypervigilance to threat.

There are four types of PTSD:
  • Acute Stress Disorder- symptoms occur within four weeks of the traumatic event and last for more than 2 days, but less than 4 weeks.
  • Acute PTSD- symptoms last for more than 4 weeks.
  • Delayed Onset PTSD- may not appear until years after the initial traumatic experience.
  • Chronic PTSD- symptoms last for more than 90 days. You will likely experience lapses in symptoms for a number of days or weeks in a row, but your symptoms will always return.

Other Names:
“Soldiers Heart” (Civil War)
“Shell Shock” (WWI)
“Combat Fatigue”
“Battle Fatigue”
“Gross Stress Reaction” (WWII)
“Post Vietnam Syndrome” (Vietnam War)


Diagnostic criteria for 309.81 Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (cautionary statement)

A. The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both of the following were present:

(1) the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others
(2) the person's response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Note: In children, this may be expressed instead by disorganized or agitated behavior

B. The traumatic event is persistently reexperienced in one (or more) of the following ways:

(1) recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions. Note: In young children, repetitive play may occur in which themes or aspects of the trauma are expressed.
(2) recurrent distressing dreams of the event. Note: In children, there may be frightening dreams without recognizable content.
(3) acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring (includes a sense of reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations, and dissociative flashback episodes, including those that occur on awakening or when intoxicated). Note: In young children, trauma-specific reenactment may occur.
(4) intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event
(5) physiological reactivity on exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event

C. Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness (not present before the trauma), as indicated by three (or more) of the following:

(1) efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma
(2) efforts to avoid activities, places, or people that arouse recollections of the trauma
(3) inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma
(4) markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
(5) feeling of detachment or estrangement from others
(6) restricted range of affect (e.g., unable to have loving feelings)
(7) sense of a foreshortened future (e.g., does not expect to have a career, marriage, children, or a normal life span)

D. Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (not present before the trauma), as indicated by two (or more) of the following:

(1) difficulty falling or staying asleep
(2) irritability or outbursts of anger
(3) difficulty concentrating
(4) hypervigilance
(5) exaggerated startle response

E. Duration of the disturbance (symptoms in Criteria B, C, and D) is more than 1 month.
F. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Case Studies

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PTSD is a disease that can affect dogs as well.
Man experts believe that the Fort Hood shooter, an army psychologist that treated soldiers with PTSD, was himself a victim of the disorder.

Examples of traumatic events that could cause PTSD-
fighting in war
sexual abuse
physical abuse
accident or disaster survivors
living in violent neighborhoods

Many people that suffer from PTSD will become addicted to some form of drug (ex. cocaine) to help cope with their nightmares.

Soldiers returning from war have been known to use dogs as a form of treatment for PTSD. Dogs that are used are often certified therapy dogs. They tend to lift spirits and help owners feel less stressed.