Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Symptoms and Treatment


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PSTD) is a type of anxiety disorder that is characterized by severe emotional wounds after a traumatic experience. Sufferers of PSTD have a recurrence of memories of fear and persistent threat leaving the individual with a feeling of shattered and entirely devastated by events. This condition can affect persons of any age or gender and is a serious psychological disorder whose prevalence continues to rise, especially with increased exposure to traumatic experiences as technology advances (Kinchin, 2004). The uniqueness of posttraumatic disorder as an anxiety disorder is that in addition to experiencing distressing symptoms, the individual must have had stressful experiences.

PSTD is present in 1 in 20 men, 1 in 10 women, and highly prevalent during childhood (about 50% of all PSTD patients experienced PSTD during childhood) (Ford, 2009), and it calls for positive diagnosis and prompt treatment. This paper discusses posttraumatic stress disorder by focusing on the etiology, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, and available treatment of the disorder. PSTD emerges as a serious anxiety disorder that can ruin the lives of victims forever, hence the need for prompt positive diagnosis and treatment.


Although the highest cases of PSTD are seen in persons who have gone through a rape ordeal and combat veterans (prevalence ranging from 10% to 30%), PSTD is also common among other victims of traumatic events. In the United States, about 7-8% of the whole population develops PSTD in a lifetime, with higher occurrences being seen among African Americans and Native Americans than among Caucasians. Women have a higher likelihood of developing PSTD compared to men (Dryden-Edwards & Stoppler, 2010). Ullman et al. (2005) explain that about 10.4% of women develop PSTD during their lifetime.

As such, the disorder is a serious public health concern. It is estimated that for 40% of all teens and children who have experienced a traumatic event, six percent of boys and fifteen percent of girls develop PSTD. In the U.S., up to six percent of all high school students who have gone through a traumatic event develop PSTD, and almost all children who have experienced direct or indirect trauma, including sexual abuse a witnessing a parent being killed, end up developing PSTD (Dryden-Edwards & Stoppler, 2010).


Posttraumatic stress disorder occurs after a person has been exposed to experiences that are “beyond the range of normal human experience: an event which would markedly distress almost anyone” (Kinchin, 2004, p. 2). A person responds to an abnormal event that may have threatened one’s life, a friend, children, or a relative. It is important to note that even though an event may be traumatizing theoretically, the victim has to perceive the event as traumatizing for the condition to be termed as PSTD. There are several incidents that are known as likely to lead to PSTD. Kinchin (2004) mentions that PSTD is an increase mainly due to modern ways of living where technological advance is increasing serious life stressors as well as severe traumatic conditions.

There are a number of traumatic events that can lead to PSTD. These can be naturally occurring events or man-instigated events. Some of the intentional human acts that are traumatic and can lead to PSTD include engaging or witnessing war (combat or civil war), sexual abuse of any form, physical abuse including battering and stalking, emotional abuse such as threats or physical neglect, torture, criminal assault, hijacking, kidnapping, and death threats among other experiences.

Some of the unintentional human experiences that may be traumatic to the level of causing PSTD to include technological accidents such as a crane crash, automobile accident, nuclear disasters such as the Chernobyl accident, and damage/loss of body part during a surgical process, more so when one is at a tender age, fires and others. Natural disasters can also be traumatic enough to cause PSTD, and these include floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and avalanche, being attacked by an animal, experiencing famine, or losing a close friend or an unborn child in a sudden manner (Schilardi, 2009).

Risk factors

Mere exposure to traumatic experiences does not imply that an individual will develop PSTD. McNally (2003) explains that although a majority of Americans have had any exposure to traumatic incidents, only a small proportion of the population develops PSTD. For instance, among 60.7% of individuals who had been exposed to traumatic conditions, only 8.2% and 20.4% of men and women respectively had developed PSTD in their lifetime.

In addition, only 34.3% of all survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing developed PSTD. These statistics are a clear indicator that there are certain factors that put some people at a higher risk of developing PSTD than others despite similar exposures to traumatic stressors. Persons who spent their childhood in unstable families are known to have an increased risk of PSTD. It is also more likely to have PSTD developing among individuals who have a preexisting anxiety disorder or people who have a family history of anxiety disorders develop PSTD than the normal population (Mcnally, 2003).

People who have gone through stressful lifestyles and lack social support also tend to develop PSTD as experienced by war veterans who lacked social support after the Vietnam War. Mcnally (2003) highlights that the level of IQ determines an individual’s ability to develop PSTD, especially among children. It is indicated that children who have an IQ that is above average hardly develop PSTD compared to children who have an IQ that is below average. The cognitive ability of an individual can also be used to predict the risk of developing PSTD, where persons with above-average cognitive ability withstand stress better and hence get buffered from PSTD. Having negativistic personality traits such as paranoia and hypochondriasis also elevates the risk of developing PSTD.


A variety of symptoms are associated with PSTD, but the symptoms can be categorized into three: hyperarousal, avoidance/numbness, and reoccurrence of traumatic experience. Symptoms are usually seen three months after exposure to a traumatic incident (Melinda & Segal, 2010). Symptoms that portray increased arousal may be shown in the form of the victim being very irritable, and anger comes in outburst. The victim has


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