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Post-traumatic stress disorder

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Stress & Anxiety

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that's triggered by your memories of a traumatic event — an event that directly affected you or an event that you witnessed.

The disorder commonly affects survivors of traumatic events, such as sexual assault, physical assault, war, torture, a natural disaster, an automobile accident, an airplane crash, a hostage situation or a death camp. In addition, the affliction can affect rescue workers at the site of an airplane crash or a mass shooting or can affect someone who witnessed a tragic accident.

Not everyone involved in a traumatic event experiences post-traumatic stress disorder. The disorder is twice as common in women as it is in men.

Treatment may involve a combined approach including medications and behavior therapies designed to help you gain control of your anxiety.


Your doctor or a mental health professional may suggest a combination of medications and behavior therapies to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. The objectives of treatment are to reduce your emotional distress and the associated disturbances to your sleep and daily functioning, and to help you better cope with the event that has triggered the disorder.


  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These antidepressants act on the chemical serotonin, the neurotransmitter in your brain that helps brain cells (neurons) send and receive messages. SSRIs include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), citalopram (Celexa), fluvoxamine (Luvox) and venlafaxine (Effexor XR). These medications can help control anxiety as well as depression.

  • Tranquilizers. Medications such as clonazepam (Klonopin) and lorazepam (Ativan) may decrease feelings of anxiety.

Behavior therapies

  • Desensitization exposure therapy. This treatment teaches you effective ways of relaxing and maintaining control when faced with thoughts or situations related to the trauma you've experienced. For example, with progressive muscle relaxation, you learn to ease anxiety by relaxing different muscle groups. Meditation involves focusing on a word or object in a quiet environment to create a relaxed feeling. After you learn to relax, you and a psychotherapist can draw up a list of situations or memories that cause anxiety. You gradually expose yourself to more anxiety-provoking thoughts and situations while learning to calm yourself as you face your feelings of anxiety. Repeated exposure to sources of anxiety diminishes your fear so that you no longer need to avoid certain situations and thoughts. The goal of this therapy is to promote a sense of recovery and a feeling of mastery over your anxiety.

  • Stress management training. This approach also involves learning to manage your anxiety through relaxation. You work with the help of a therapist to develop skills to decrease your preoccupation with negative thoughts and the sense of being overwhelmed by the traumatic event.

  • Cognitive behavior therapy. You identify, with your therapist's help, distorted thoughts and beliefs that arouse psychological stress. You learn ways you can view and cope with a traumatic event differently, and you learn alternative beliefs about the event and the impact it has on your life. There is special emphasis on learning to develop a sense of mastery and control of your thoughts and feelings.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4

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