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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Posttraumatic stress disorder (post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one's own or someone else's physical, sexual, or psychological integrity, overwhelming the individual's ability to cope. As an effect of psychological trauma, PTSD is less frequent and more enduring than the more commonly seen acute stress response.

Diagnostic symptoms for PTSD include re-experiencing the original trauma(s) through flashbacks or nightmares, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, and increased arousal such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger, and hypervigilance. Formal diagnostic criteria (both DSM-IV and ICD-9) require that the symptoms last more than one month and cause significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Causes

PTSD is believed to be caused by either physical trauma or psychological trauma, or more frequently a combination of both. Possible sources of trauma include experiencing or witnessing childhood or adult physical, emotional or sexual abuse. In addition, experiencing or witnessing an event perceived as life-threatening such as physical assault, adult experiences of sexual assault, accidents, drug addiction, illnesses, medical complications, or employment in occupations exposed to war (such as soldiers) or disaster (such as emergency service workers).

Traumatic events that may cause PTSD symptoms to develop include violent assault, kidnapping, sexual assault, torture, being a hostage, prisoner of war or concentration camp victim, experiencing a disaster, violent automobile accidents or getting a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness. Children or adults may develop PTSD symptoms by experiencing bullying or mobbing. Preliminary research suggests that child abuse may interact with mutations in a stress-related gene to increase the risk of PTSD in adults.

Multiple studies show that parental PTSD and other posttraumatic disturbances in parental psychological functioning can, despite a traumatized parent's best efforts, interfere with their response to their child as well as their child's response to trauma. Parents with violence-related PTSD may, for example, inadvertently expose their children to developmentally inappropriate violent media due to their need to manage their own emotional dysregulation.

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