Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a condition that can happen to people who have experienced a trauma, such as exposure to death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence. About half of all U.S. adults experience at least one traumatic event in their lives and most do not develop PTSD. About 10 out of every 100 women, and about 4 out of every 100 men develop PTSD sometime in their lives. People who have had multiple traumas are more vulnerable to developing PTSD.
More Information About PTSD
For a diagnosis of PTSD, a person must have experienced a traumatic event, followed by symptoms that interfere with function in day-to-day life. These symptoms are divided into several categories, and a person with PTSD has at least some symptoms from each category. The symptoms last more than one month.
Traumatic event is persistently re-experienced, in the following way(s):
- Unwanted upsetting memories
- Emotional distress after exposure to traumatic reminders
- Physical reactivity after exposure to traumatic reminders
Avoidance of trauma-related stimuli after the trauma, in the following way(s):
- Trauma-related thoughts or feelings
- Trauma-related reminders
Negative thoughts or feelings that began or worsened after the trauma, in the following way(s):
- Inability to recall key features of the trauma
- Overly negative thoughts and assumptions about oneself or the world
- Exaggerated blame of self or others for causing the trauma
- Negative affect
- Decreased interested in activities
- Feeling isolated
- Difficulty experiencing positive affect
Trauma-related arousal and reactivity that began or worsened after the trauma, in the following way(s):
- Irritability or aggression
- Risky or destructive behavior
- Heightened startle reaction
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping
Treatments for PTSD
Treatments for PTSD include psychotherapy, medication and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), though off-label. Psychotherapies that can be used for PTSD include cognitive, emotional or behavioral techniques to facilitate processing a traumatic event. Psychotherapy techniques with the strongest evidence are Prolonged Exposure, Cognitive Processing Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. In general, psychotherapy has more and better evidence for treating PTSD than medications. Psychiatrists may treat PTSD with some of the same medications used to treat depression to help with the negative thoughts or feelings associated with PTSD. Psychiatrists may also use medications to target nightmares.
TMS is effective for PTSD, but is off-label, meaning that this use of TMS has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, TMS has been widely studied for PTSD, and reviews of the medical literature have concluded that high frequency treatment (rapid pulses) over the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex has an overall treatment benefit.