Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder. It’s caused by frightening or distressing events. It's normal to experience upsetting thoughts after a traumatic event. Visit your GP if you or your child are still having problems about four weeks after the event, particularly if you have symptoms of PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD
PTSD can develop immediately after someone experiences a disturbing event. It can also occur weeks, months or even years later.
The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have a significant impact on your day-to-day life. Some signs and symptoms are below.
Re-experiencing/ reliving traumatic events
Re-ecperiencing or reliving traumatic events may occur in the daytime when you are awake (flashbacks, or intrusive images or thoughts) or as nightmares when asleep. These can cause distress and anxiety (these are the most characteristic symptoms). You may also have problems sleeping.
Avoidance of people or places
You may avoid people or places that remind you of the traumatic event.
Emotional numbing or negative thoughts
Emotional numbing/ negative thoughts is where you have problems experiencing feelings or feel detached from other people, or have negative thoughts about yourself. You may experience feelings of isolation, irritability or guilt. You may have difficulty concentrating.
Hyperarousal/ hyper reactivity
Hyperarousal/ hyper reactivity - where you may feel on guard all the time, looking for danger (hypervigilance), or you may become irritable with angry outbursts (with little or no provocation). You may experience other symptoms such as pain, sweating, nausea or trembling.
Many people with PTSD also have a number of other problems, including:
- other mental health problems – such as depression, anxiety or phobias
- self-harming or destructive behaviour – such as drug misuse or alcohol misuse
- other physical symptoms – such as headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach aches
PTSD sometimes leads to work-related problems and the breakdown of relationships.
PTSD in children
PTSD can affect children as well as adults. Children with PTSD can have similar symptoms to adults, such as having trouble sleeping and upsetting nightmares.
There are some symptoms that are more specific to children with PTSD, such as:
- being unusually anxious about being separated from a parent or other adult
- re-enacting the traumatic event(s) through their play
When to seek medical advice
It's normal to experience upsetting and confusing thoughts after a traumatic event. Most people improve naturally over a few weeks.
You should visit your GP if you or your child are still having problems about four weeks after the traumatic experience.
If necessary, your GP can refer you to mental health specialists for further assessment and treatment.
Causes of PTSD
The type of events that can cause PTSD include:
- serious road accidents
- violent personal assaults, such as sexual assault, mugging or robbery
- long periods of sexual abuse, violence or severe neglect
- witnessing violent deaths
- military combat
- being held hostage
- terrorist attacks
- natural disasters, such as severe floods, earthquakes or tsunamis
PTSD is estimated to affect about one in every three people who have a traumatic experience. It’s not clear exactly why some people develop the condition and others don't.
How PTSD is treated
PTSD can be successfully treated, even when it develops many years after a traumatic event.
Any treatment depends on the severity of symptoms and how soon they occur after the traumatic event.
Your GP will discuss the best course of treatment for you. This could include psychotherapy such as such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or medication.
PTSD and driving
Having PTSD could affect your ability to drive.
If you've had or currently suffer from a medical condition or disability that may affect your driving you must tell the Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA).
More useful links
- How to use your health services
- Mental health services
- Mental health emergency - if you're in crisis or despair
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.