The symptoms of PTSD often begin immediately after a traumatic incident. Occasionally, symptoms will emerge many years after the incident. To qualify for a diagnosis of PTSD, symptoms must last more than a month and be severe enough to interfere with relationships or work, or be highly upsetting to the individual. Similarly, the course of the condition can vary. Some people recover within 6 months, while others have symptoms that last much longer. In some people, the condition becomes chronic. The earlier treatment is offered, the less likely PTSD will become a chronic condition. In many cases, if Active Duty members with PTSD are given treatment soon after they begin to show symptoms, there is no negative career impact and they are able to have a successful career and rewarding social life.
Types of Symptoms
Re-experiencing symptoms cause problems in a person’s everyday routine. These symptoms can start from the person’s own thoughts and feelings. Conversations, people, places, or events that serve as reminders of the traumatic event can trigger re-experiencing symptoms.
Re-experiencing symptoms include:
- Flashback: reliving the trauma over and over, including very vivid recollections during waking hours that include panic and extreme fear
- Nightmares or disturbing dreams that may be similar to the trauma
- Distressing and unwanted thoughts that you can’t get rid of that usually have a theme that is similar to the trauma
Avoidance symptoms are symptoms of social isolation, withdrawal or avoidance of people, situations, conversations, movies, or places that remind a person of the traumatic event. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.
Avoidance symptoms can include:
- Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience
- Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event
Arousal and reactivity symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic events. These symptoms can make the person feel stressed and angry. They may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.
Arousal and reactivity symptoms can include:
- Being easily startled
- Feeling tense or "on edge"
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Having angry outbursts
Cognition and mood symptoms can begin or worsen after the traumatic event, but are not due to injury or substance use. These symptoms can make the person feel alienated or detached from friends or family members.