If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Post traumatic stress disorder

Visit us (http://www.khanacademy.org/science/healthcare-and-medicine) for health and medicine content or (http://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/mcat) for MCAT related content. These videos do not provide medical advice and are for informational purposes only. The videos are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen in any Khan Academy video. Created by Tanner Marshall.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

- [Voiceover] So, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, which is often shortened to PTSD, is the serious anxiety problem that can develop after your safety, or even your life, has been threatened in some way, or after you've seen some kind of traumatic event. Even though, when you hear PTSD, you might think of trauma from fighting in a war, it's also very possible though, to experience PTSD from other traumatic events, like natural disaster, car crashes, rape, and others. So when you're posed with this potential traumatic event, or serious danger, like one of those though, your body gets into this mode, where it's ready to either defend against the danger, or avoid it. This is called the fight or flight response. Think about it. If you're hiking along in the woods, and all of a sudden, this huge grizzly bear comes into view, your body's natural reaction is gonna be either to get ready to fight back, if it attacks you, or get out of there. And this response is completely normal, and actually helps protect us from harm in many cases. With PTSD, though, this reaction is changed, or damaged, or dysfunctional in some way. And people with PTSD might feel anxiety, stress, or even frightened when they're no longer in danger. Now most people, after a traumatic fight-or-flight type event, will be affected in some way, and coping or adjusting afterward can be hard for everyone. With time and care, though, most people typically get better, and aren't considered to have PTSD. People that don't get better though, and develop PTSD, have issues coping with this anxiety for months, or even years after the event. And when someone has PTSD, there are a couple different types of symptoms that might present themselves. And the first type is intrusive memories. These involve experiencing the trauma again, through your thoughts and memories of the event. These might cause problems with the person's every day routine, and might be triggered by that person's own thoughts, or they can also be triggered by other outside words, objects, or situations that remind them of the event. So for example, if you had PTSD from fighting in a war, anxiety might be triggered by you spontaneously thinking about a gun, or it might also be triggered by you seeing a police officer with a gun on their belt. Now, a second type of symptom is called avoidance. This is where patients with PTSD start to avoid places, or particular situations, because they think going to these places, or doing these things, will lead them to thinking or talking about the event, and cause anxiety. This can often have a major impact on their normal daily routine. For example, if you survived a traumatic car crash, you might now avoid driving, or riding in a car to work every day, even if it meant taking way longer. You can imagine how this might impact your day-to-day life. And a third symptom of PTSD is negative thinking and mood, which is pretty self-explanatory, and it's where patients have negative feelings about themselves or others, and have a hard time experiencing positive feelings. They might feel emotionally numb, and lack interest in things they used to enjoy doing. This can make it especially hard to keep close relationships like you used to. Finally, there are hyper arousal symptoms, which have to do with you being overly alert, and tense. So you might be easily startled, or feel on edge. and have difficulty sleeping. This state of hyperarousal can be presnt constantly, even when you're not thinking about the particular stressful event, and can make it very difficult to perform normal daily tasks, like sleeping, eating, or concentrating. Treatment of PTSD is completely dependent on each patient, but it usually composed of either psychotherapy, or medication, or both. Cognitive behavior therapy is a form of psychotherapy. And two types of therapies within that, that have been shown to be effective are exposure therapy, and cognitive restructuring. Now exposure therapy helps people control and face their fears, and even expose them to trauma they experienced, but obviously in a safe and controlled way. This could be with mental imagery, or writing, or even visits to the place where the event happened. Cognitive restructuring, on the other hand, is where we try to help patients make sense of their bad memories. Sometimes, patients have inaccurate memories, or perceptions of what happened, and might feel shameful or guilty. And we wanna help them think about these events in their memories, in a more realistic, positive and healthy way. Apart from psychotherapy, medications can also be prescribed, and there have been two types of anti-depressants that have been approved by the FDA for treatment of PTSD. The first is called Sertraline, but maybe more commonly know, as Zoloft. The other is called Paroxetine, AKA Paxil. These are both selective seratonin re-uptake inhibitors, or for short, SSRI's, and are also used to treat depression. They can especially help treat negative emotional symptoms like anxiety, sadness, worry and anger, and might also help when going through with psychotherapy. Besides anti-depressants though, in some cases, anti-anxiety medications will be prescribed. Like benzodiazepenes, which help you relax and sleep. The only thing though, is that these medications are more likely to lead to dependence. And so, they'll likely not be taken for the long term. Both psychotherapy and medications can be effective in helping patients recover from PTSD. And this recovery can be improved even moreso, ,by the support of family and friends. who will listen and offer comfort.