PTSD: Signs, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Reviewed Sep 20, 2017

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Summary

  • PTSD can produce flashbacks, bad dreams or trouble remembering the traumatic event.
  • Young children may show PTSD through bedwetting, clinginess and inability to talk.

How do you know if you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? The question is not always simple to answer because PTSD can show up in many ways. Some symptoms can seem to contradict each other. PTSD can produce unwanted flashbacks. It can also make it hard to remember a traumatic event. It can make some people tense and easily startled. It can make others emotionally numb. You might also confuse it with other conditions like depression, which, like PTSD can make you lose interest in things you used to enjoy.

Because the symptoms of PTSD are so varied, it is crucial to seek out a therapist specializing in PTSD if you think you may have it. Here are some signs of PTSD that you should know in order to decide if you need help:

PTSD starts with a stressor. Whatever your symptoms now, to be PTSD they have to be related to a real event in the past. The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists these as PTSD stressors: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence. To have a diagnosis of PTSD, you need to have been exposed to one of these things. But you need not have experienced it directly. You may have seen it in person or heard about it happening to a loved one or close friend. PTSD can also grow out of intense exposure to others’ trauma. Police or health care workers who deal with child sexual abuse may get PTSD in this way.

PTSD symptoms come in four categories. They are:

  • Re-experiencing. These include flashbacks (in which you re-live an event over and over), nightmares, intrusive and scary thoughts. These can be triggered by sights, sounds, words, situations, smells, or weather. Or your own thoughts can set them off.
  • Avoidance. Those who are diagnosed with PTSD try to suppress memories of trauma and stay away from any reminders of it. They might avoid any places, objects, thoughts or situations related to the trauma.
  • Negative changes in thinking or moods. PTSD can deeply impact the way you think and feel. It can make you emotionally numb. You might have trouble remembering the traumatic event. You might have persistent feelings of guilt, shame or anger. Your view of yourself and the world may grow very negative (“I am bad.” “The world is not safe.”). You may lose interest in things you used to enjoy. You may feel detached from other people or even from yourself.
  • Hyperarousal. A constant feeling of being “on edge” is a common sign of PTSD. People with PTSD are often easily startled, have trouble sleeping and are prone to angry outbursts.

PTSD is persistent. People can have post-traumatic symptoms and not have PTSD. In fact, some post-traumatic stress is normal. It becomes a problem when it interferes with your life. Bart P. Billings, PhD, a psychologist and retired colonel, says, post-traumatic stress becomes a disorder “when the person with it can’t find a way to get back to normal” The DSM-5 states the symptoms have to last at least a month for a diagnosis of PTSD.

PTSD has different symptoms in small children. Older children and teenagers react to trauma more or less as adults do. But PTSD in small children may show up in distinctive ways. Some may lose previously acquired skills. For example, kids who have started to talk may forget how, or kids who are toilet trained may start bedwetting. Some children may become overly “clingy” with a parent, or may act out a scary event in playtime.

A self-screen can help you decide if you need help. The National Center for PTSD offers the following set of questions for people who think they may have PTSD:

In your life, have you ever had any experience that was so frightening, horrible, or upsetting that, in the past month, you:

  • Have had nightmares about it or thought about it when you did not want to?
  • Tried hard not to think about it or went out of your way to avoid situations that reminded you of it?
  • Were constantly on guard, watchful or easily startled?
  • Felt numb or detached from others, activities or your surroundings?

Diagnosis is done mainly through interviews and questionnaires. PTSD is not always easy to diagnose. Those who have it may express more pronounced symptoms, such as depression or substance use. It is important to ask for help from a professional with experience in dealing with PTSD. The diagnosis usually is done through “structured interviews” or “self-report questionnaires.” The interviews are standard lists of questions that the therapist will ask you. The questionnaires are pre-printed questions given to you to answer.

Resource

To see the DSM-5 criteria for diagnosis of PTSD, go to: www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/PTSD-overview/dsm5_criteria_ptsd.asp

By Tom Gray
Source: National Center for PTSD, www.ptsd.va.gov/index.asp; National Institute of Mental Health
Reviewed by Cynthia Scott, MD, Physician Advisor, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • PTSD can produce flashbacks, bad dreams or trouble remembering the traumatic event.
  • Young children may show PTSD through bedwetting, clinginess and inability to talk.

How do you know if you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? The question is not always simple to answer because PTSD can show up in many ways. Some symptoms can seem to contradict each other. PTSD can produce unwanted flashbacks. It can also make it hard to remember a traumatic event. It can make some people tense and easily startled. It can make others emotionally numb. You might also confuse it with other conditions like depression, which, like PTSD can make you lose interest in things you used to enjoy.

Because the symptoms of PTSD are so varied, it is crucial to seek out a therapist specializing in PTSD if you think you may have it. Here are some signs of PTSD that you should know in order to decide if you need help:

PTSD starts with a stressor. Whatever your symptoms now, to be PTSD they have to be related to a real event in the past. The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists these as PTSD stressors: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence. To have a diagnosis of PTSD, you need to have been exposed to one of these things. But you need not have experienced it directly. You may have seen it in person or heard about it happening to a loved one or close friend. PTSD can also grow out of intense exposure to others’ trauma. Police or health care workers who deal with child sexual abuse may get PTSD in this way.

PTSD symptoms come in four categories. They are:

  • Re-experiencing. These include flashbacks (in which you re-live an event over and over), nightmares, intrusive and scary thoughts. These can be triggered by sights, sounds, words, situations, smells, or weather. Or your own thoughts can set them off.
  • Avoidance. Those who are diagnosed with PTSD try to suppress memories of trauma and stay away from any reminders of it. They might avoid any places, objects, thoughts or situations related to the trauma.
  • Negative changes in thinking or moods. PTSD can deeply impact the way you think and feel. It can make you emotionally numb. You might have trouble remembering the traumatic event. You might have persistent feelings of guilt, shame or anger. Your view of yourself and the world may grow very negative (“I am bad.” “The world is not safe.”). You may lose interest in things you used to enjoy. You may feel detached from other people or even from yourself.
  • Hyperarousal. A constant feeling of being “on edge” is a common sign of PTSD. People with PTSD are often easily startled, have trouble sleeping and are prone to angry outbursts.

PTSD is persistent. People can have post-traumatic symptoms and not have PTSD. In fact, some post-traumatic stress is normal. It becomes a problem when it interferes with your life. Bart P. Billings, PhD, a psychologist and retired colonel, says, post-traumatic stress becomes a disorder “when the person with it can’t find a way to get back to normal” The DSM-5 states the symptoms have to last at least a month for a diagnosis of PTSD.

PTSD has different symptoms in small children. Older children and teenagers react to trauma more or less as adults do. But PTSD in small children may show up in distinctive ways. Some may lose previously acquired skills. For example, kids who have started to talk may forget how, or kids who are toilet trained may start bedwetting. Some children may become overly “clingy” with a parent, or may act out a scary event in playtime.

A self-screen can help you decide if you need help. The National Center for PTSD offers the following set of questions for people who think they may have PTSD:

In your life, have you ever had any experience that was so frightening, horrible, or upsetting that, in the past month, you:

  • Have had nightmares about it or thought about it when you did not want to?
  • Tried hard not to think about it or went out of your way to avoid situations that reminded you of it?
  • Were constantly on guard, watchful or easily startled?
  • Felt numb or detached from others, activities or your surroundings?

Diagnosis is done mainly through interviews and questionnaires. PTSD is not always easy to diagnose. Those who have it may express more pronounced symptoms, such as depression or substance use. It is important to ask for help from a professional with experience in dealing with PTSD. The diagnosis usually is done through “structured interviews” or “self-report questionnaires.” The interviews are standard lists of questions that the therapist will ask you. The questionnaires are pre-printed questions given to you to answer.

Resource

To see the DSM-5 criteria for diagnosis of PTSD, go to: www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/PTSD-overview/dsm5_criteria_ptsd.asp

By Tom Gray
Source: National Center for PTSD, www.ptsd.va.gov/index.asp; National Institute of Mental Health
Reviewed by Cynthia Scott, MD, Physician Advisor, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • PTSD can produce flashbacks, bad dreams or trouble remembering the traumatic event.
  • Young children may show PTSD through bedwetting, clinginess and inability to talk.

How do you know if you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? The question is not always simple to answer because PTSD can show up in many ways. Some symptoms can seem to contradict each other. PTSD can produce unwanted flashbacks. It can also make it hard to remember a traumatic event. It can make some people tense and easily startled. It can make others emotionally numb. You might also confuse it with other conditions like depression, which, like PTSD can make you lose interest in things you used to enjoy.

Because the symptoms of PTSD are so varied, it is crucial to seek out a therapist specializing in PTSD if you think you may have it. Here are some signs of PTSD that you should know in order to decide if you need help:

PTSD starts with a stressor. Whatever your symptoms now, to be PTSD they have to be related to a real event in the past. The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists these as PTSD stressors: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence. To have a diagnosis of PTSD, you need to have been exposed to one of these things. But you need not have experienced it directly. You may have seen it in person or heard about it happening to a loved one or close friend. PTSD can also grow out of intense exposure to others’ trauma. Police or health care workers who deal with child sexual abuse may get PTSD in this way.

PTSD symptoms come in four categories. They are:

  • Re-experiencing. These include flashbacks (in which you re-live an event over and over), nightmares, intrusive and scary thoughts. These can be triggered by sights, sounds, words, situations, smells, or weather. Or your own thoughts can set them off.
  • Avoidance. Those who are diagnosed with PTSD try to suppress memories of trauma and stay away from any reminders of it. They might avoid any places, objects, thoughts or situations related to the trauma.
  • Negative changes in thinking or moods. PTSD can deeply impact the way you think and feel. It can make you emotionally numb. You might have trouble remembering the traumatic event. You might have persistent feelings of guilt, shame or anger. Your view of yourself and the world may grow very negative (“I am bad.” “The world is not safe.”). You may lose interest in things you used to enjoy. You may feel detached from other people or even from yourself.
  • Hyperarousal. A constant feeling of being “on edge” is a common sign of PTSD. People with PTSD are often easily startled, have trouble sleeping and are prone to angry outbursts.

PTSD is persistent. People can have post-traumatic symptoms and not have PTSD. In fact, some post-traumatic stress is normal. It becomes a problem when it interferes with your life. Bart P. Billings, PhD, a psychologist and retired colonel, says, post-traumatic stress becomes a disorder “when the person with it can’t find a way to get back to normal” The DSM-5 states the symptoms have to last at least a month for a diagnosis of PTSD.

PTSD has different symptoms in small children. Older children and teenagers react to trauma more or less as adults do. But PTSD in small children may show up in distinctive ways. Some may lose previously acquired skills. For example, kids who have started to talk may forget how, or kids who are toilet trained may start bedwetting. Some children may become overly “clingy” with a parent, or may act out a scary event in playtime.

A self-screen can help you decide if you need help. The National Center for PTSD offers the following set of questions for people who think they may have PTSD:

In your life, have you ever had any experience that was so frightening, horrible, or upsetting that, in the past month, you:

  • Have had nightmares about it or thought about it when you did not want to?
  • Tried hard not to think about it or went out of your way to avoid situations that reminded you of it?
  • Were constantly on guard, watchful or easily startled?
  • Felt numb or detached from others, activities or your surroundings?

Diagnosis is done mainly through interviews and questionnaires. PTSD is not always easy to diagnose. Those who have it may express more pronounced symptoms, such as depression or substance use. It is important to ask for help from a professional with experience in dealing with PTSD. The diagnosis usually is done through “structured interviews” or “self-report questionnaires.” The interviews are standard lists of questions that the therapist will ask you. The questionnaires are pre-printed questions given to you to answer.

Resource

To see the DSM-5 criteria for diagnosis of PTSD, go to: www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/PTSD-overview/dsm5_criteria_ptsd.asp

By Tom Gray
Source: National Center for PTSD, www.ptsd.va.gov/index.asp; National Institute of Mental Health
Reviewed by Cynthia Scott, MD, Physician Advisor, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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