Medical Q&As

Post traumatic stress disorder - symptoms?

How would you diagnose post traumatic stress disorder?

PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after experiencing an intensely stressful event in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. It has been well documented in relation to military conflict but it can also happen in other scenarios. Natural disasters such as flooding and earthquakes can also trigger PTSD as can road traffic accidents, violent personal assault, mugging and rape. It can be an extremely disabling condition. It can develop at any age including childhood. Some people recover from PTSD in a matter of months whereas others can be seriously disabled for many years. Symptoms usually develop within a few months of the traumatic event but some people might not develop symptoms until several years after the event. Many people with PTSD experience flashbacks of the ordeal. Others can be distressed by frightening thoughts or nightmares especially when they are exposed to events that are reminiscent of the original disturbing event. Anniversaries are particularly potent triggers of symptoms. Sleep disturbance, depression, intense anxiety, irritability and feelings of anger are also commonly felt by sufferers. Many people with PTSD go on to develop problems with alcohol and drug abuse. Physical symptoms also occur which may include headache, dizziness, chest pain, digestive symptoms, change in bowel habit or vague aches and pains. These symptoms can be so intense that there true origin may be masked. In other words the GP might interpret such florid physical symptoms as being indicative of a physical disorder rather than PTSD. The diagnosis is made if symptoms have been present for longer than one month. Symptoms of shorter duration do not qualify for the diagnosis of PTSD. Some studies have suggested that if people have an opportunity to talk through their experience soon after the traumatic event that this might reduce the symptoms of PTSD.