In the United States, lifetime prevalence of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is estimated to be 6–9 percent. The highest occurrence of PTSD is associated with exposure to traumatic experiences such as terrorism (i.e., 9/11) or combat; yet rates of PTSD in impoverished, high-risk inner city populations in the U.S. may be at least as high as among veterans returning from combat or people exposed to terrorist attacks or other disasters.
PTSD is more common in women than in men. While it occurs in people of all ages, young and old persons are the most vulnerable. Other factors associated with increased risk for PTSD include low income, poor education, poor social supports, and prior psychotropic drug use.
The incidence and course of PTSD are variable and depend on various factors, including the source, type, proximity, intensity, and duration of the trauma, the patient’s subjective interpretation of the trauma, and the reaction of the patient’s relatives and associates. Factors that can contribute to a good prognosis include: prompt diagnosis and treatment, early and ongoing social support, avoidance of further trauma, absence of other psychiatric disorders or substance abuse, and positive premorbid function.
PTSD may be caused by exposure to a severe traumatic stress that threatens death or serious injury or threat to personal integrity; for example:
- physical abuse
- sexual and physical abuse in childhood
- car accidents
- fires and industrial accidents
- being in a war zone or terrorist activity zone
- being in an earthquake or another natural disaster
- receiving a serious medical diagnosis
- being subjected to invasive, painful treatment of medical problems
A number of factors increase the likelihood that a patient will develop PTSD in response to a given stress, including the following:
- lack of social support (in children, lack of parental support)
- prior exposure to traumatic incidents
- a pre-existing psychiatric disorder
- repeated trauma
- trauma caused by a trusted person rather than the result of an accident
PTSD is not a fatal disorder. Nevertheless, it frequently leads to conduct disorder, substance abuse, depression, anxiety disorders, and risk-taking that pose considerable danger. Approximately 80 percent of those with PTSD have at least one comorbid psychiatric disorder.
Younger patients, in particular, in addition to the symptoms of numbing, hyperarousal, and recurrent recollections of the event, often become unable to participate in the normal developmental experiences and fail at school and work. They often develop a host of emotional and behavioral problems, such as disruptive behavior disorders, eating disorders, sexual acting out, other risk-taking activities, depression, the full range of anxiety disorders, dissociation, mood lability, violence, and difficulty concentrating.
Learn more about PTSD in our homestudy course, Brain and Stress: PTSD & Adjustment Disorder. Explore all of our homestudy courses by clicking the image below.