The Symptoms of PTSD may manifest themselves right after the traumatic event, as early as three months after the traumatic event, or as late as a few years after the event. The symptoms may come and go over the course of several years, but they generally disrupt the afflicted person’s home and work life. Symptoms must last more than a month for a patient to be diagnosed with PTSD, and they come in three categories: re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance symptoms and numbing symptoms, and arousal and reactivity symptoms. But not everyone experiences the same symptoms or experiences them in the same way.
The simplest things such as a voice, an object, or an image can trigger a memory of the traumatic event that causes the afflicted individual to relive the event. Sometimes these memories come back unexpectedly and can sometimes feel so real that it causes physical and emotional reactions. The traumatic experience can be relived through nightmares, flashbacks, or frightening thoughts.
Avoidance Symptoms and Numbing Symptoms
A person who has experienced a traumatic experience may change their routine in an attempt to avoid contact with objects and situations that trigger memories of the experience. They may avoid the place that the traumatic experience happened or news reports of similar incidences. Some people may also numb their feelings as a self-defense mechanism. They may isolate themselves from others or may be less interested in activities they once enjoyed.
Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms
After a traumatic experience, people may find themselves being on guard all the time, constantly searching for dangers around them. It’s another self-defense mechanism, but it has its drawbacks. It can cause problems with sleep, difficulty thinking, angry outbursts, and general irritability. People may also find themselves being quite easily startled.
How PTSD Is Diagnosed
There are no lab tests for the diagnosis of PTSD. Diagnosis of the disorder occurs through a psychological evaluation that’s performed using information a physician has collected based on a discussion with patients about their signs and symptoms. To be diagnosed with PTSD you must meet criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association. For instance, you must have had or witnessed a life-threatening event, been exposed to graphic details of traumatic events on a continuous basis (think first responders), or learned that a person close to you experienced a traumatic event. Diagnosis can only occur one month after this event and certain signs and symptoms must be present. If a person is experiencing flashbacks, changes in mood, disruption of sleep, ongoing emotional distress, and nightmares about the traumatic experience a month after the experience, then these may be signs of PTSD. Your physician will perform a series of physical examinations and an evaluation of your medical history to rule out the possibility of a physical illness. You’ll then be referred to a mental health professional who’ll screen you for anxiety disorders using a specially designed interview and assessment tools. The doctor will then determine if you’re suffering from PTSD based on your symptoms.