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Post-traumatic stress disorder - What are the symptoms of PTSD?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

It's normal to feel upset after living through a frightening or life-threatening event. But if you haven't started to feel better within about a month and you find it difficult to carry on as normal, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If you get symptoms within the first few weeks after going through a frightening event, then you may have acute stress disorder. It's important to get help for this because some people who get acute stress disorder go on to get PTSD. Having treatment straight away may stop you getting PTSD.

Most people have symptoms of PTSD straight after they have been through a traumatic event. But sometimes they don't get symptoms until months or years later, although this is less common.[11]

Common symptoms

If you have PTSD, you may get the following symptoms.

Reliving the experience in your thoughts or nightmares

You may have vivid memories of the event that you lived through.[11]

Things that remind you of the event, such as the anniversary of when it happened, or a type of car, may spark strong memories or flashbacks that make you feel as if you are going through the event all over again.[11] You may also have terrifying nightmares.

Avoiding things that remind you of what happened

You may try to avoid people or places that remind you of what you have been through.[11][12]

You may try to avoid talking about or thinking about the event. And you may also feel that you can't remember much about it.

Becoming withdrawn

You may feel distant from your friends and family. Or you may find it difficult to express your feelings.[11] This can put a strain on your relationships. And it may make it hard for you to work.[11]

You may lose interest in things you used to enjoy. You may also feel pessimistic about the future.[11]

Feeling edgy or jumpy

Living through a frightening event may make you tense and nervous.[11]

You may be easily startled and feel jumpy. You may get upset when something unexpected happens.[16]

People who have PTSD often say that this edginess makes them feel irritated and angry. And it can make it hard to concentrate.[11]

Having trouble sleeping

If you have been through a frightening or life-threatening event, you may find it hard to get to sleep or stay asleep.[11] This may be because you are having nightmares.

Another symptom of PTSD is feeling edgy or as if you need to be on your guard. This may also affect your sleep.

Physical symptoms

If you have PTSD, you may also:[12]

  • Feel dizzy

  • Have pains in your chest

  • Have headaches

  • Feel as if your heart is beating fast or beating very hard

  • Feel sick.

Last Updated: August 06, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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