Symptoms and signs of PTSD

Post traumatic stressRelating to injury or concern. disorder (PTSD) can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms can be so varied.[1]

The symptoms of PTSD are usually experienced within three months of the traumatic event.[2]

The characteristic symptoms of PTSD are persistent:[3]

People with PTSD also commonly experience:[3,4]

Re-experiencing of the traumatic event

Re-experiencing the traumatic event, in a vivid and distressing way, is the most characteristic symptom of PTSD.[4]

This may include:[4]

  • Vivid flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Intrusive images or other sensations from the event.

Symptoms of increased arousal

Symptoms of increased arousal include:[4]

  • Hypervigilance
  • Exaggerated startle responses
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep problems.

People with PTSD often have characteristic responses to reminders of the trauma, including:[5]

  • An increase in heart rate
  • An increase in bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. pressure.

Avoidance of any stimuli associated with the trauma

People with PTSD tend to avoid any reminders of the traumatic event, and try to push memories of the event out of their mind.[4]

Somatic complaints

Often people with PTSD have complaints that appear to be physical problems - known as 'somatic' complaints. This may lead to the treatment of isolated physical symptoms only, rather than the underlying condition of PTSD itself.[1]

The symptoms of PTSD may include nonspecific somatic complaints such as:[1]

Chronic, unexplained pain

  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Palpitations.

Changes in emotional state

The emotional state of a person with PTSD may range from intense fear to anger or feeling sad, guilty, or emotionally numb and detached.[4]

  1. Budur K, Falcone T and Franco K. Diagnosing and managing posttraumatic stressRelating to injury or concern. disorder. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine 2006; 73: 121-9.
  2. Andrews B, Brewin CR, Philpott R et al. Delayed-onset posttraumatic stressRelating to injury or concern. disorder: a systematic review of the evidence. Am J Psychiatry 2007; 164: 1319-26.
  3. Layton B and Krikorian R. Memory mechanisms in posttraumatic stressRelating to injury or concern. disorder. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 2002; 14: 254-61.
  4. Semple D and Smyth R. Oxford Handbook of Psychiatry 2009; 2nd Edition.
  5. Bedi US and Arora R. Cardiovascular manifestations of posttraumatic stressRelating to injury or concern. disorder. Journal of the National Medical Association 2007; 99: 642-9