Understanding
PTSD Symptoms

PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder, is a condition that often occurs after an individual has experienced a traumatic event, such as military combat. There are several military PTSD statistics, but the VA estimates that around 30% of Vietnam War veterans had PTSD at some point in their lives and around 20% of OIF and OEF veterans have PTSD. In order to diagnose PTSD, symptoms must have occurred for at least a month. Some individuals may start to experience symptoms of PTSD shortly after a traumatic event, while others may experience late onset PTSD, where symptoms don’t begin until 6 months after a traumatic event occurred. While names of different types of PTSD vary between professionals and organizations, PTSD is usually categorized by types of symptoms. Not all individuals will experience the same combination of symptoms. Understanding PTSD and how to treat it revolves around the types of symptoms an individual is experiencing. These symptoms are broken down into 6 subtypes.

Types of PTSD Symptoms

Re-experiencing

One of the types of PTSD symptoms involves mentally re-experiencing the event in some way or combination of ways. This could involve intrusive thoughts and mental images of the event or recurrent dreams about the event. Dreams experienced by sufferers of PTSD are usually extremely life-like repetitions of the traumatic experience or experiences with few dreams that are symbolic of the event. Meanings behind dreams are often masked by unrealistic or symbiotic events and images. Dreams provoked by PTSD are very clear. Other symptoms in this category involve hallucinations or a sense of reliving the experience while awake or while intoxicated. Another term for this is flashbacks. These flashbacks are so vivid they can involve smells, sounds, tastes and bodily sensations from a past experience. These flashbacks or vivid memories are often set off by certain environmental or mental triggers. PTSD triggers can be extremely subtle, such as a certain tone of voice or the lighting in a room. Others can be more obvious, such as a news story about a traumatic event.

Avoidance

Another category of PTSD symptoms involves avoidance. Emotional numbness also falls into this category. Individuals suffering from symptoms in this category will avoid anything to do with the event, including talking about it or admitting anything occurred in the first place. Some people may even experience memory loss around most or part of the traumatic event. Symptoms of avoidance include avoiding particular situations or going to places that may potentially trigger memories. People may stop doing activities they once enjoyed. They may also feel detached and alone, as if there were an invisible barrier between themselves and others. They may feel as though they are on the outside looking in through a window at the life around them, and they might be unable to imagine a future. Symptoms in this category also include emotional detachment. They may feel unable to have loving feelings or show affection to others who are close to them, such as a spouse or children.

Hyperarousal

A third category of PTSD symptoms involves hyperarousal, which involves hypervigilance, irritability, inability to concentrate and being easily startled. These individuals may have difficulty falling asleep and may wake up frequently throughout the night. As a result of the trauma, the central nervous system can be in a constant state of alert in anticipation of other traumatic events. People experiencing hyperarousal may be easily startled by unexpected noises, movements or visuals that would not normally startle others. They may also be extremely irritable, easily snapping with outbursts of anger that are inappropriate and unequal responses to a particular situation or conversation with loved ones or strangers.

Disassociation

Some individuals that experience severe trauma or abuse handle it mentally through derealization and depersonalization. One way the mind can deal with traumatic events is to subconsciously separate itself from reality, making the traumatic events that occurred also seem unreal. Symptoms of depersonalization may involve ‘out-of-body’ experiences during which individuals can observe their own body from above in which they may feel like whatever is happening is not really happening to them. Derealization is similar, giving individuals the idea that an experience isn’t real, that things aren’t really happening and didn’t really happen. The individual may feel as though they are living in a dream. This is often associated with a decrease in the intensity of feelings in daily life.

Individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder may experience one or all of these types of symptoms. Other symptoms include feelings of guilt, changes in personality, lack of trust, depression, substance abuse, complaints of physical problems or pain, withdrawal from social or occupational life and lack of interest in activities.

Start Your Path to a Life Without PTSD

If you or a loved one are suffering from these symptoms and are wondering how to treat PTSD, contact Operation: Warrior’s Path for more information and read our other resources for a better understanding of PTSD. Our duty is to provide treatment for veterans living daily with PTSD to ensure this disorder does not lay claim to another victim.