The symptoms that characterize Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be divided into four main categories:
- Negative Cognitions and Moods
- Functional Impairment
Not all those exposed to trauma experience the range of symptoms detailed below. We have included an exhaustive list of symptoms, but it is important to keep in mind that a person who has experienced trauma may be suffering even if he or she displays only a few post-traumatic symptoms. Also note that the symptoms must continue for over a month to meet the diagnostic criteria of PTSD. If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from PTSD, consider taking our self-test for post-traumatic symptoms.
The following is a list of the main symptoms of PTSD:
- Invasive memories of the trauma: pictures and thoughts related to the event, which come up again and again and cause significant distress.
- Frequent reoccurring nightmares connected to the trauma.
- Flashbacks: a feeling that the traumatic event is still taking place; this may be experienced through smells, images or sounds that bring a person back to their traumatic experience, and can be on a continuum from brief episodes to complete loss of consciousness.
- Feelings of stress and anxiety when exposed to stimuli that are connected to or symbolize the trauma, which cause intense distress.
- Avoiding thoughts, conversations or feelings connected to the trauma.
- Avoiding places, activities and people that/who are reminders of the trauma.
Negative Thought Patterns (“Cognitions”) and Moods
- A persistent and distorted sense of blame (either towards oneself or others).
- Persistent and negative beliefs and expectations about oneself and the world (e.g., “I am not a good person;” “danger is everywhere”).
- Feeling foreign and alienated from other people.
- Loss of interest in activities that used to be considered fun.
- An inability to remember key aspects of the event.
- A persistent inability to experience positive emotions
- Problems sleeping.
- Irritable and/or aggressive behavior.
- Difficulty concentrating and studying.
- Constant feeling of alertness (hypervigilance).
- Heightened reaction to loud noises and sudden movements.
- Self-destructive or restless behavior.
The symptoms cause difficulties in functioning in a variety of areas, including family life, work, studying, and/or intimate relationships.