Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they usually get better. If the symptoms get worse, last for months or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may have PTSD.
To diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder, your doctor will likely:
You directly experienced the traumatic event
You witnessed, in person, the traumatic event occurring to others
You learned someone close to you experienced or was threatened by the traumatic event
You are repeatedly exposed to graphic details of traumatic events (for example, if you are a first responder to the scene of traumatic events)
You may have PTSD if the problems you experience after this exposure continue for more than a month and cause significant problems in your ability to function in social and work settings and negatively impact relationships.
Perform a physical exam to check for medical problems that may be causing your symptoms
Do a psychological evaluation that includes a discussion of your signs and symptoms and the event or events that led up to them
Use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association
Diagnosis of PTSD requires exposure to an event that involved the actual or possible threat of death, violence or serious injury. Your exposure can happen in one or more of these ways:
Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment can help you regain a sense of control over your life. The primary treatment is psychotherapy, but can also include medication. Combining these treatments can help improve your symptoms by:
Teaching you skills to address your symptoms
Helping you think better about yourself, others and the world
Learning ways to cope if any symptoms arise again
Treating other problems often related to traumatic experiences, such as depression, anxiety, or misuse of alcohol or drugs
You don’t have to try to handle the burden of PTSD on your own.