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This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Leon Rozewicz (MBBS, FRCPsych, MRCGP, MRCPsych) in September 2020.

Having suffered from a traumatic experience such as witnessing harrowing scenes of war, being involved in a car crash, or have been a victim of assault, it is crucial to look out for the key symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If you or a friend or relative has been involved in such an experience, they will most likely be feeling very anxious and may possibly still be in shock. PTSD Symptoms are often related to shock after a traumatic event, and will usually develop within the first month, although there can be a delay in the onset of PTSD for months or even years.

Those suffering with PTSD will often experience the following symptoms:

  • Reliving the experience through nightmares and even flashbacks at any given point during the day
  • Numbness and loss of deep feelings as a way to protect yourself
  • Difficulty concentrating as your mind is on other things and past traumatising situations
  • Suffering painful emotions such as guilt, anger, anxiety, panic and depression
  • Avoidance of dealing with emotions, specifically grief, anger and frustration
  • Avoidance of activities that could trigger memories of the event. This could mean avoiding a friend or relative who may have witnessed the event or situation that has caused you so much trauma
  • Alcohol or drug use - drinking too often and turning to drugs are often seen as ‘ways out’ of a problem but the reality is that these will only reduce the chances of recovery
  • Headaches, dizziness and chest pains
  • Irritability and difficulty sleeping
  • Weight loss or gain

If PTSD is left untreated, these symptoms can become severe and long-lasting which can subsequently affect your family, social and work life.

The difference between expected levels of stress and anxiety after trauma depends on how long initial symptoms last, as if you have PTSD, they can last beyond a few weeks and may not improve until you seek professional medical help and support. Priory’s nationwide network of hospitals and wellbeing centres provide specialist care involving evidence-based therapy techniques, focused on helping you process your trauma and reduce symptoms of PTSD. PTSD therapy at Priory is specifically tailored towards dealing with trauma, with techniques such as eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) being particularly effective in helping to process and neutralise traumatic experiences and memories.

Panic attacks and PTSD

Panic attacks are a common sign of PTSD, so keep an eye on how regularly these happen, particularly if they don’t seem to be reducing in severity or frequency. Flashbacks and nightmares of what you have experienced are also extremely common and can be disturbingly vivid, resulting from your body having difficulty processing the event in a healthy way. PTSD Symptoms such as this can be very distressing and mean that you may continue to relive the event again and again until you seek appropriate expert PTSD treatment.

If you think that a friend or relative has PTSD, you may notice that they are on high alert at all times, even in what should be a relaxing environment such as socialising with friends. They may feel very anxious and appear to be ‘on edge’, while struggling to get into a routine pattern of sleep is also common. As a way of escaping these constant feelings, drinking too much alcohol or using prescription or illegal drugs can become real problems, but will hinder your chances of recovery long-term, and can even lead to a dual-diagnosis of PTSD and substance addiction.

What are the common signs of PTSD?

When you are diagnosed with PTSD, the symptoms that you are feeling at the time will be categorised into ‘mild’, ‘moderate’ and ‘severe’, although these bear no reflection on how you should be feeling after the event, or the extent of how traumatic your experience was.

The specific symptoms of PTSD that you experience within these categories are often grouped into the following four types:

  • Intrusive memories - includes recurring and unwanted memories involving reliving the traumatic experience in the form of flashbacks or distressing dreams relating to the event, while emotional distress and physical reactions such as tremors and sweating can occur when you are reminded of your trauma
  • Avoidance - blocking out memories of the event and not wanting to discuss it in detail are common if you have PTSD, while you may also wish to avoid places and people that are linked to the trauma so as to avoid triggering unwanted symptoms
  • Negative thoughts and mood - depending on the circumstances of the events, you may experience a lack of trust in others, feelings of guilt aimed at yourself for not being able to prevent what happened, and feel emotionally numb
  • Changing in emotional and physical reactions - becoming easily startled, having difficulty sleeping, feeling over-aware of impending danger, and self-destructive behaviours such as substance abuse are examples of changes in emotions and behaviour that may not relate to how you felt before the event

This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Leon Rozewicz (MBBS, FRCPsych, MRCGP, MRCPsych) in September 2020.

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