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What are the symptoms of PTSD?

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. Symptoms of PTSD 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 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. 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 psychological 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.

This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Az Hakeem (MBBS, FRCPsych, MSc, M.Inst.GA) in September 2018, and is scheduled to be reviewed again in September 2020. To view all Priory PTSD specialists, please click here.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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