Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a disorder that some people develop after experiencing a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.

It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to respond to danger and help a person avoid danger in the future. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people will recover from those symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are no longer in danger.

Who develops PTSD?

Anyone can develop PTSD at any age. This includes war veterans as well as survivors of physical and sexual assault, abuse, car accidents, disasters, terror attacks, or other serious events. Not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous event. Some experiences, like the sudden or unexpected death of a loved one, can also cause PTSD.

According to the National Center for PTSD, about seven or eight of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men. Some traumas may put an individual at a higher risk and biological factors like genes may make some people more likely to develop PTSD than others.

Why do some people develop PTSD and other people do not?

It is important to remember that not everyone who lives through a dangerous event develops PTSD. In fact, most will recover quickly without intervention.

Many factors play a part in whether a person will develop PTSD. Some of these are risk factors that make a person more likely to develop PTSD. Other factors, called resilience factors, can help reduce the risk of developing the disorder. Some of these risk and resilience factors are present before the trauma and others become important during and after a traumatic event.

Risk factors for PTSD include:

  • Living through dangerous events and traumas
  • Getting hurt
  • Seeing people hurt or killed
  • Childhood trauma
  • Feeling horror, helplessness, or extreme fear
  • Having little or no social support after the event
  • Dealing with extra stress after the event, such as loss of a loved one, pain and injury, or loss of a job or home
  • Having a history of mental illness or substance abuse

Resilience factors that may reduce the risk of PTSD include:

  • Seeking out support from other people, such as friends and family
  • Finding a support group after a traumatic event
  • Learning to feel good about one’s own actions in the face of danger
  • Having a coping strategy, or a way of getting through the bad event and learning from it
  • Being able to act and respond effectively despite feeling fear

Researchers are studying the importance of various risk and resilience factors including genetics and neurobiology. With more research, someday it may be possible to predict who is likely to develop PTSD and to prevent it.


Reference: National Institute of Mental Health

Last updated May 10, 2017

This information is for general educational uses only. It may not apply to you and your personal medical needs. This information should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation with or the advice of your physician or health care professional.

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