Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder which can develop following a frightening or traumatic event. PTSD victims manifest a number of different symptoms as a response to the event. The presence of any of these symptoms does not always indicate that an individual is suffering PTSD; it is the persistent nature of the response that distinguishes this disorder.
One of the most common symptoms of PTSD victims is the experience of reliving the traumatic experience. These experiences can take the form of constant disturbing memories of the event, but may also manifest in other forms, such as nightmares or hallucinations. PTSD victims may also experience physical reactions as if they were experiencing the traumatic incident again, or respond negatively to images or objects that remind them of it.
PTSD victims may also experience a number of reactions apparently intended to avoid extreme emotional responses to trauma. These can include memory less relating to the incident or a powerful urge to avoid locations or situations which cause the sufferer to recall it. In some cases, individuals suffering from PTSD may feel a reduction in "affect" or emotional response, leading to an inability to feel certain emotions.
In addition to these symptoms, PTSD victims often experience a feeling of heightened awareness, constantly alert and agitated. This can lead to difficulty sleeping, irritability and outbursts of angry behavior. PTSD victims can often tend to overreact when startled. This state of vigilant alertness can also make it hard to focus on other tasks.
Some or even all of these symptoms might be common in people exposed to stressful situations, particularly right after a traumatic experience. This can be a normal human response to trauma and danger, and is not considered a disorder. A number of characteristics separate PTSD victims from people suffering stress responses.
The duration of the response is one of the most important differences between PTSD and normal stress responses. PTSD victims experience symptoms for months or even years, while normal stress responses tend to wear off more quickly. For this reason, a diagnosis of PTSD usually takes place at least a month after the traumatic incident. In some cases, the onset of PTSD can be delayed, meaning that the individual shows no symptoms immediately after the incident but begins to manifest them after a period of up to several months. The severity of the symptoms is also a factor in diagnosing PTSD; the more impairment symptoms cause to an individual's normal function, the greater the likelihood they suffer from PTSD.