Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

US soldiers in Iraq pay tribute for Sept. 11
U.S. soldiers in Iraq pay their respect, to all those who died during a terrorist attack on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, at Camp Victory, in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday Sept.11, 2006

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are the most sustained U.S. combat operations since the Vietnam War, and initial signs indicate they are likely to produce a new generation of veterans with chronic mental health problems. Many of the challenges facing the soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq are stressors that have been identified and studied in veterans of previous wars (e.g., fear for own life, participation in killing).

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults like rape. Most survivors of trauma return to normal given a little time. However, some people will have stress reactions that do not go away on their own, or may even get worse over time. These individuals may develop PTSD.

What Do People With PTSD Suffer From?

People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person's daily life.

How Does PTSD Develop?

Most people who are exposed to a traumatic, stressful event experience some of the symptoms of PTSD in the days and weeks following exposure.

The course of chronic PTSD usually involves periods of symptom increase followed by remission or decrease, although some individuals may experience symptoms that are unremitting and severe. Some older veterans, who report a lifetime of only mild symptoms, experience significant increases in symptoms following retirement, severe medical illness in themselves or their spouses or reminders of their military service.

How Is PTSD Treated?

PTSD is treated by a variety of forms of psychotherapy (talk therapy) and drug therapy. There is no definitive treatment, but some treatments appear to be promising, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, and exposure therapy, according to the National Center for PTSD. Studies have also shown that medications help ease associated symptoms of depression and anxiety and help with sleep.

For more information about post-traumatic stress:

• The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress, special center within Veterans Affairs, has more information.

• Click here for resources for U.S. service members returning from deployment.

• Click here for help for veterans with PTSD.