PTSD is short for post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is a mental health condition that can develop after you experience something particularly frightening or shocking. You may develop PTSD shortly after the unsettling event, but PTSD can also develop years later.

PTSD is characterized by:

  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the trauma
  • A constant feeling of arousal or reactivity
  • Re-experiencing the trauma (in the form of flashbacks or nightmares)
  • Mood symptoms and negative emotions

To be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms must persist for over one month.

Physiologically, people with PTSD may show an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. They may also experience physical changes in the brain, including a decrease in GABA, an increase in glutamate, lowered serotonin levels, and an overly reactive amygdala.

At one time, PTSD was referred to as shell-shock since soldiers often experience PTSD after their time in military service. However, we now recognize that PTSD can develop due to any traumatic event, not just war.

Who Is at Risk of Developing PTSD?

Anyone can develop PTSD. This disorder affects men, women, and children every day. About 15 million adults have PTSD during any given year.

It’s important to remember that developing PTSD and seeking treatment for it is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, therapy can help people learn to manage their PTSD symptoms over time.