22 Symptoms Of PTSD In Adults

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Natalie Feinblatt

Over 70%  of adults living in the United States have gone through some type of traumatic event at some point in their lives, according to the National Council on Behavioral Health. That means if you’ve experienced a traumatic event, you’re far from alone. Traumatic events often manifest in post-traumatic stress disorder, more commonly known as PTSD, which is a mental health disorder.

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The symptoms of PTSD in adults may occur immediately after the event, or they can emerge at some time later. Many people tend to connect PTSD in adults with flashbacks after a traumatic event, but there’s more to PTSD than that. Certain situations may trigger your senses, and they can cause you to become stressed and hypervigilant.

Well-meaning family members and friends sometimes try to help by pressuring you to just get over it. They don’t often understand that exposure to a traumatic event is a serious issue that often requires professional help.

If you’re experiencing severe stress, hypervigilance, flashbacks, or other symptoms of PTSD, you don’t have to continue going through life feeling like you’re constantly on the edge of being triggered by a traumatic event. By recognizing all the symptoms of PTSD, and being open to trying different treatments, you stand a good chance of finding a treatment that will help you return to a more normal life, in due time.

Do I Have a Stress Disorder, or Is It Really PTSD?

PTSD falls into the category of stress disorders, and both of them are mental health disorders. Not everyone that experiences a traumatic event develops PTSD. Other types of traumatic stress can occur without becoming PTSD.

Acute stress disorder, or ASD, is another type of traumatic stress disorder that occurs in some people after a traumatic event. If symptoms of traumatic stress appear for less a month, you may have an acute stress disorder and not PTSD. Either way, it’s important to take your mental health seriously.

According to an article written by John W. Barnhill MD, symptoms of ASD are unpleasant, intense, and may cause you to feel like it’s difficult to function normally. Most often, symptoms begin shortly after experiencing a traumatic event. If symptoms persist beyond a month, you may get a diagnosis of PTSD. A mental health professional can tell you for certain and lead you to the proper course of treatment.

The chances of recovery from Acute Stress Disorder are optimistic once you’ve been removed from the situation that caused your traumatic stress. It is easier for victims of traumatic stress to recover when they have the benefit of appropriate support. Understanding, empathy for their traumatic stress, and having opportunities to talk about a traumatic event and their response to it are helpful ways to support someone that’s trying to improve their mental health.

Don’t be surprised if you feel the need to describe the traumatic event several times. Many people find that it reduces their traumatic stress when they have opportunities to tell about it over and over. It’s helpful to surround yourself with empathetic friends or loved ones. If you don’t have the opportunity to share your traumatic experience with close friends or family members, your doctors or other healthcare professionals make good sounding boards. If your doctor feels that it’s warranted, he or she may write a prescription to help you sleep or relieve some of your traumatic stress.

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What Types Of Traumatic Events Lead To PTSD?

For many people living with PTSD, the stress disorder was caused by a first-hand, direct experience such as a serious injury, violence, or the threat of death. It doesn’t always happen that way. Exposure to a traumatic event can occur indirectly, as well. For example, if you have experienced someone dying or you’ve witnessed a tragic event that happened to someone else, those are indirect exposures to traumatic events that can just as seriously affect your mental health.

22 Symptoms Of PTSD In Adults

There are 22 symptoms of PTSD in Adults, and they fall into three main types of traumatic stress symptoms. The three main types of traumatic stress symptoms are:

  1. Having flashbacks, nightmares, or mentally re-experiencing the traumatic event.
  2. Feeling numb, avoiding things that remind you of the traumatic event, feeling disassociated.
  3. Having increased mental and emotional arousal, which may cause you to have difficulty sleeping or concentrating. You may feel jumpy, irritated, or angry.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), your doctor may diagnose you with PTSD if your traumatic stress symptoms affect you for more than a month after experiencing a traumatic event. Symptoms of traumatic stress may not affect you until months or years down the line. The same traumatic stress symptoms that apply to PTSD in adults also apply to adolescents and children older than six years of age.

For a diagnosis of PTSD, the causes of traumatic stress include:

  1. Directly experiencing a traumatic event.
  2. Witnessing a traumatic event in person.
  3. Learning that a traumatic event occurred to a close family member or close friend where there was an actual or threat of death that was violent or accidental.
  4. Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to the adverse accounts of a traumatic event.

For example, stress-related symptoms that affect mental health are common in first responders such as police officers, firefighters, and medical personnel, where they’re dealing with life and death situations regularly. ADAA notes that mental health disorders related to stress disorders don’t apply to those who experience traumatic stress as a result of exposure to electronic media, television, movies, or photos unless the stress disorder is related to their jobs.

To be classified as PTSD, one or more of the following symptoms of traumatic stress must be present from the first category of a stress disorder:

  1. Spontaneously having recurrent, involuntary memories that cause traumatic stress that is intrusive and distressing. ADAA adds that children express traumatic stress by acting out the traumatic event repeatedly during play.
  2. Having dreams that cause traumatic stress where it stirs emotions related to the event. Children may experience traumatic stress after having scary dreams they don’t understand.
  3. Having flashbacks or other traumatic stress reactions where you feel the traumatic event is reoccurring.
  4. Having intense distress for a prolonged period that affects your mental health when you’re exposed to internal or external triggers that make you think about the event.
  5. Having physiological responses when something triggers a memory of the traumatic event.

To be classified as PTSD, one or more of the following symptoms of traumatic stress must be present from the second category of a stress disorder:

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  1. Not being able to remember significant details from the traumatic event. This may be due to having a head injury or due to being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  2. Having persistent, negative, and exaggerated thoughts about yourself, others, or the world that prevents you from feeling joy and happiness.
  3. Continually blaming yourself or someone else about why the traumatic event occurred.
  4. Having feelings of fear, horror, anger, shame, or guilt that persistently affect your mental health.
  5. Not feeling up to participating in activities that you formerly enjoyed.
  6. Having feelings that you are detached from others or that you are more of a stranger to them.
  7. Having difficulty keeping your mental health in a positive space.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, your mental health must also be affected by at least two symptoms from the third category of symptoms of a stress disorder which includes:

  1. Constantly feeling irritable or showing aggressive behavior.
  2. Acting out in a reckless or self-destructive manner.
  3. Feeling hypervigilant and on edge.
  4. Having an exaggerated startle response.
  5. Having problems concentrating.
  6. Not being able to fall asleep or experiencing restlessness in sleep.

The ADAA adds that stress disorders can also be attributed to having impaired social or occupational function that isn’t related to the direct effects of prescribed medications, alcohol, or drugs. Stress disorders can also be caused by other types of medical conditions, such as traumatic brain injury.

Treatment For PTSD In Adults

There is no fully comprehensive cure for PTSD, but that’s not a reason for you to lose hope. Many treatments are available for PTSD and other types of stress disorders that have proven to relieve the symptoms of PTSD in adults. Most of the effective treatments for PTSD and other stress disorders fall into the category of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

CBT consists of exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring. Your treating therapist may include some combination of the following treatments for PTSD:

  • Cognitive processing therapy
  • EMDR
  • Prolonged exposure therapy
  • Stress inoculation training

Some people who live with PTSD also find that present-centered therapy and support groups are also quite effective in reducing symptoms of stress disorders.

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Finally, be aware that a traumatic event can happen to anyone, and it often does. You don’t have to hide your symptoms or feel alone in them. The symptoms of PTSD and other stress disorders can negatively impact your life, work, and relationships, but help is available. If you feel like you need a mental health evaluation to determine a diagnosis of PTSD or other stress disorder, the staff at BetterHelp can match you to a licensed professional that can help you on your road to recovery.

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