What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder in which a person experiences recurring, intrusive recollections of a traumatic event. The perception of what constitutes a "traumatic event" can vary from person to person, but some of the events that most commonly cause PTSD symptoms are being involved in combat, sexual assault, and natural or man-made disasters.

What are the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
A person living with PTSD may re-experience a trauma through memories, flashbacks, or nightmares. PTSD may also cause a person to feel emotionally numb or to avoid anything that might remind them of their trauma. Other common symptoms of PTSD include trouble sleeping and concentrating, jumpiness, irritability, and anger.

Who gets post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Anyone can develop PTSD after a traumatic event, including children. Women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD, and the disorder often occurs along with depression, substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders. Less than 1% of Canadians experience PTSD.

What are the causes of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Trauma may trigger PTSD, but the causes of the disorder are not fully understood. Like other anxiety disorders, PTSD may be caused by a combination of several factors, including genetic predisposition to anxiety and depression, life experiences, personality and temperament, and your brain's chemistry.

How is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosed?
If you think that you might have PTSD, speak to your doctor and share the symptoms you've experienced. Your doctor will likely perform a thorough examination to rule out other possible causes.

For a person to be diagnosed with PTSD, they must meet the criteria of the American Psychiatric Association's reference guide, the DSM-IV. Among the criteria:

  • experiencing or witnessing an overwhelming traumatic event and reliving the fear and horror of the event through flashbacks or nightmares
  • avoiding reminders of the trauma
  • emotional numbness
  • heightened anger
  • excessive vigilance for possible threats
  • symptoms lasting more than a month

How can PTSD be treated?
Your treatment goal for post-traumatic stress disorder should be to function better on a daily basis and to reduce the occurrence of your symptoms. A treatment plan for PTSD may include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), medications, or a combination of therapy and medications.

Exposure therapy is a type of behavioural therapy shown to be very effective for treating PTSD. A therapist exposes a patient to triggers related to the trauma in a gradual and controlled way so the patient's fear response lessens through repeated exposure.

Healthy lifestyle habits and social support may not cure PTSD, they may help you to manage your symptoms. Learn more about your anxiety treatment options.