9 Surprising Facts About Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN on December 10, 2020
  • Close-up of Caucasian male military veteran's hands clenched and holding uniform hat
    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: New Focus on an Old Condition
    Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental condition that can occur after you’ve experienced a traumatic event. It was first recognized as shell shock during World War I, when soldiers were returning home with anxiety, depression, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts and memories. A lot of research has been done about PTSD as doctors realized victims of violence, people who experienced natural disasters or near-death experiences, or who witnessed similar events also developed these types of symptoms. But as common as the condition is, there are still many PTSD facts that may surprise some people.
  • Young African American man in wheelchair talking to counselor or therapist
    1. Almost 8 million people in the United States have PTSD.
    It’s not unusual for someone with PTSD to believe they’re alone with their feelings. But at any given time, almost 8 million people in the country have PTSD. And it’s estimated that 7 or 8 people out of every 100 will develop PTSD during their lifetime. The more people speak up about PTSD, the more those who have it and their loved ones will know they aren’t alone. This can make it easier to ask for help.
  • Older Hispanic woman looking concerned with daughter and granddaughter in background
    2. More women than men develop PTSD.
    Both men and women experience traumatic events, but women tend to develop PTSD more often than men. Statistics show about 4% of men develop PTSD at some point in their life compared to up to 10% of women, although overall, fewer women are exposed to traumatic events. Researchers don’t know exactly why more women develop PTSD, but it could have something to do with the types of assaults and traumatic events women may be exposed to, such as sexual abuse as a child or adult.
  • Young Caucasian girl looking lonely with group of friends in background
    3. It can take years for PTSD symptoms to begin.
    You must have PTSD symptoms for at least one month for your doctor to make a diagnosis. However, it can take several months, even years before the symptoms become obvious enough to interfere with your life. People can experience PTSD-like symptoms right after a trauma, but this may be another condition called acute stress disorder. The symptoms, such as anxiety, depression and insomnia, are similar to PTSD. If you have acute stress disorder, you won’t necessarily go on to develop PTSD, particularly if you seek treatment as soon as possible.
  • Close-up bottom view of Caucasian male holding alcoholic drink
    4. Men and women can have different PTSD symptoms.
    Men and women tend to experience different symptoms related to PTSD. This isn’t always the case, but the symptoms for women are more often related to avoiding anything or any situation that may trigger uncomfortable feelings or thoughts. Women can be jumpier and have more difficulty dealing with the emotions that the triggers or memories evoke. On the other hand, men often become angrier and may turn to alcohol or drugs to help them cope with their feelings.
  • Young Caucasian girl in car looking out window listening to headphones
    5. Children can get PTSD.
    It’s not unusual for an adult to have PTSD related to a trauma they experienced as a child; however, children can also develop PTSD while they are still young. About 3 to 15% of girls who are traumatized develop PTSD and 1 to 6% of boys do. For many, the trauma comes from neglect or abuse. The more severe the trauma, the higher the likelihood that PTSD will follow.
  • Senior Caucasian Vietnam veteran petting cat at home next to window
    6. Not everyone experiences flashbacks the same way; some don’t have them at all.
    One of the most commonly known symptoms of PTSD is flashbacks. A flashback is a feeling you are back in the traumatic situation. PTSD flashbacks can be very vivid, causing you to feel like it’s real, with sound, smell, visions and more. The sensations can be so intense, it’s frightening. Yet, some people only have the memory without the strong flashback feelings, and others no flashbacks at all.
  • Cropped image of military veteran in wheelchair talking to counselor or therapist
    7. Reliving the experience (exposure therapy) can help relieve PTSD symptoms.
    It may seem counterintuitive, but exposure therapy can help some people with PTSD learn how to manage their symptoms and how they react to triggers. Exposure therapy must only be done with a trusted and qualified therapist, in an environment where you feel safe. Guided by your therapist, you go back in your mind to the trauma. With your therapist’s help, you learn how to change the way you think about the event or experience, reducing your fear and avoidance behaviors.
  • Young Caucasian girl in thought sitting on couch talking to therapist or counselor
    8. You don’t have to be a trauma victim to develop PTSD.
    Most people who develop PTSD were in a traumatic situation at some point, such as being in a war, a serious accident, or an assault.  However, you could also develop PTSD if someone close to you was in a traumatic situation or someone you lost was injured or died. It can also occur among first responders, such as police, firefighters and paramedics because of the situations they handle. Other professionals who work with trauma victims, like emergency room doctors and psychologists, can also develop PTSD.
  • African American man meditating and listening to music in bedroom
    9. Non-medical therapies may help relieve some PTSD symptoms.
    Many people with PTSD find comfort in activities that help them relax or distract them from the painful feelings that can overwhelm them. Yoga, meditation, acupuncture, art therapy, and music therapy are just some examples of therapies or activities that can be helpful. If you choose a complementary therapy to help you manage your symptoms, try to find a practitioner or instructor who has experience working with people who have PTSD. Medication can also help relieve symptoms.
9 Surprising Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Facts
  1. How Common is PTSD in Adults? U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_adults.asp
  2. PTSD: A Growing Epidemic. NIH Medline Plus. Winter 2009. https://medlineplus.gov/magazine/issues/winter09/articles/winter09pg10-14.html
  3. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967
  4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd.shtml
  5. Joseph S. Is Shell Shock the Same as PTSD? Psychology Today. November 20, 2011. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/what-doesnt-kill-us/201111/is-shell-shock-the-same-ptsd
  6. Acupuncture for PTSD. Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. https://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog/2015/01/08/acupuncture-ptsd
  7. Bergland C. Meditation Reduces Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-athletes-way/201601/meditation-reduces-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-symptoms

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Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 10
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