Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)


What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Exposure to traumatic and life-threatening events like military combat, natural disasters, accidents and serious illnesses can trigger PTSD — an anxiety disorder with lasting effects if left untreated.   

People with PTSD live with intense fear and stress long after the trauma is over. They relive the event through flashbacks and nightmares, resulting in unattachment and avoidance of people and things that remind them of important aspects of the event. As a result, negative thoughts and behaviors develop that disrupt their lives and don’t fade over time.

With professional help, people with PTSD can learn to manage their symptoms and lead productive lives. At Mercy, our behavioral health experts offer education, counseling and compassionate care for those suffering from PTSD.

PTSD Causes & Risk Factors

PTSD occurs in people of all ages. Risk factors associated with the disorder include being exposed to traumatic events and lacking the social support needed to develop resilience. Although we often associate PTSD with military service, many life experiences can cause the disorder.

Emotional Abuse & PTSD

Both genders are susceptible to emotional abuse, especially in intimate relationships. Abusers attempt to frighten, control and isolate their victims, which causes psychological damage that may lead to PTSD.

Childhood Trauma & PTSD

When children are exposed to repeated abuse and trauma, they can develop PTSD. The disorder negatively impacts their brain development, language skills, thinking and sense of self.

Single-Incident Trauma & PTSD

Individual events like car accidents, fires, floods and physical assaults can be so traumatic they lead to PTSD. These single-incident traumas can also occur in combat situations.

Domestic Violence & PTSD

Long-term cycles of physical and emotional abuse occur with domestic violence. And because women are at higher risk for both sexual and domestic abuse, they’re more than twice as likely as men to develop PTSD (10% likelihood for women and 4% for men).

Effects of PTSD

PTSD can have long-term effects on your mental and physical health, relationships and work life. Physical and emotional effects of PTSD include:

  • Brain structure and function Research shows the area of the brain that controls fear and emotion (amygdala) is more active in people with PTSD, while the part that controls memory (hippocampus) is smaller.
  • Body pain Frequent and chronic body pain (especially back pain) is common with PTSD. It can be caused by traumatic events like accidents or simply the increased stress and muscle tension that accompanies PTSD.
  • Social and relationship challenges People with PTSD have difficulty feeling and expressing emotions, which can lead to marital stress and problems in other social relationships.

PTSD Symptoms

PTSD symptoms usually begin within three months of a traumatic event, but they can emerge later. To be considered PTSD, your symptoms must last longer than a month and be severe enough to disrupt your daily life. Types of symptoms typically seen in PTSD include the following.


Frequently reliving the trauma through nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, or other psychological distress.

Avoiding and numbing

Avoiding people and activities that are reminders of the trauma, and avoiding psychological pain by disconnecting emotionally.


Constantly feeling ‘on guard’ for danger, resulting in sleep problems, irritability, lack of concentration and a heightened startle reflex.

Cognitive and mood changes

Difficulty recalling parts of the trauma, negative thought patterns and feelings, and a reduced interest in enjoyable activities.

Talk with your Mercy doctor if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms following a traumatic incident. He or she will evaluate your symptoms and discuss the care that’s right for you.

Child & Adolescent PTSD Symptoms

When children are exposed to frightening or traumatizing experiences, it’s normal for them to feel anxious and have some behavioral changes. But if their symptoms last for several weeks, contact your child’s Mercy pediatrician for an evaluation.

PTSD symptoms in children and adolescents include detachment, irritability, trouble sleeping, dreaming about the traumatic event and reenacting it through play. Young children may revert to bedwetting, have separation anxiety or even forget how to speak. Adolescents may display self-destructive behavior and guilt. Because PTSD in children increases suicide risk, it’s important to share any concerns with your child’s Mercy pediatrician.    

Diagnosis & Treatment for PTSD

If you or a loved one has PTSD symptoms, get the help you need from a Mercy behavioral health professional.

Learn about PTSD diagnosis and treatment options here. >

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