Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - Symptoms 

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 

The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have a significant impact on your day-to-day life.

In most cases, the symptoms develop during the first month after a traumatic event. However, in a minority of cases, there may be a delay of months or even years before symptoms start to appear.

Some people with PTSD experience long periods when their symptoms are less noticeable, followed by periods where they worsen. Other people have severe symptoms that are constant.

The specific symptoms of PTSD can vary widely between individuals, but they generally fall into the categories described below.


Re-experiencing is the most typical symptom of PTSD. This is when a person involuntarily and vividly re-lives the traumatic event in the form of flashbacks, nightmares or repetitive and distressing images or sensations. This can even include physical sensations such as pain, sweating and trembling.

Some people will have constant negative thoughts about their experience, repeatedly asking themselves questions that prevent them from coming to terms with the event. For example, they may wonder why the event happened to them and if they could have done anything to stop it, which can lead to feelings of guilt or shame.

Avoidance and emotional numbing

Trying to avoid being reminded of the traumatic event is another key symptom of PTSD. This usually means avoiding certain people or places that remind you of the trauma, or avoiding talking to anyone about your experience.

Many people with PTSD will try to push memories of the event out of their mind, often distracting themselves with work or hobbies.

Some people attempt to deal with their feelings by trying not to feel anything at all. This is known as emotional numbing. This can lead to the person becoming isolated and withdrawn, and they may also give up pursuing the activities that they used to enjoy.

Hyperarousal (feeling 'on edge')

Someone with PTSD may be very anxious and find it difficult to relax. They may be constantly aware of threats and easily startled. This state of mind is known as hyperarousal.

Hyperarousal often leads to irritability, angry outbursts, sleeping problems (insomnia) and difficulty concentrating.

Other problems

Many people with PTSD also have a number of other problems, including:

PTSD sometimes leads to work-related problems and the breakdown of relationships.

PTSD in children

PTSD can affect children as well as adults. Children with the condition can have similar symptoms to adults, such as having trouble sleeping and upsetting nightmares.

Like adults, children with PTSD may also lose interest in activities that they used to enjoy and they may have physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches.

However, there are some symptoms that are more specific to children with PTSD, such as:

  • bedwetting
  • being unusually anxious about being separated from a parent or other adult
  • re-enacting the traumatic event(s) through their play

When to seek medical advice

It is normal to experience upsetting and confusing thoughts after a traumatic event, but in most people these will improve naturally over a few weeks.

You should visit your GP if you or your child are still having problems about four weeks after the traumatic experience, or if the symptoms are particularly troublesome.

Your GP will want to discuss your symptoms with you in as much detail as possible. They will ask whether you have experienced a traumatic event, either in the recent or distant past, and whether you have re-experienced the event through flashbacks or nightmares.

Your GP can refer you to mental health specialists if they feel you would benefit from treatment. See treating PTSD for more information.

Page last reviewed: 24/09/2013

Next review due: 24/09/2015


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The 8 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

BirdsEleven said on 02 July 2014

I have had severe anxiety since the first year of school, and lately I'm only starting to think maybe something happened with my first year teacher. I have little memory of being younger, i can remember the last three or four years at most so everything in this is information I've been given by my parents. In reception I was terrified of school, I cried everyday, even while I was in school. I stopped eating and became very ill from this, I struggled sleeping (as I still do), my speech got worse and I slurred and mumbled everything I said. There are photographs from that time that my dad took of me after I came in from school that show me crying. I was put into therapy to help with my fear, sadness and the claims of seeing monsters, I told the doctor I saw devils coming in my room. This teacher did shout at me a lot and the most memory I have is of being backed into a corner behind a cupboard while she shouted at me, therapy did nothing as I always struggled to explain my feelings (and I still do) so I was took out of it. Since then I have been extremely introverted, I hate other people, I am prone to violence or violent thoughts and I am paranoid, I get dizziness sickness headaches and stomach aches a lot. I also have panic attacks,OCD, bpd and depression. The thing that made me curious about my past is that maybe a year ago I had a dream that put me in an uncomfortable situation with this teacher and every now and then, under stress I get flashbacks to being cornered by the teacher, Over my life i have been scared of every teacher no matter how nice they are, I've even been paranoid that they want something sexually from me, and I can't go against an instruction someone has given me. I don't want to falsely accuse anyone, In fact if I remember anything I probably won't follow it up, I frankly don't want to see that teacher again, however I am concerned that something did happen and I needed to get this off my chest.

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Browney76 said on 26 December 2013

I need to beat this thing! It has been slowly destroying my life, I was repeatedly raped as a child and received no help at all, I feel as though I was discarded not only by those who could help but also my family who tell me there was no help available for boys at the time, no counseling no one to talk to nothing, I was a 8-10 year old boy I'm now a 37 year old man who has spent most of his life hiding from everything that matters, self prescribing drink then drugs namely canabis which ended up as my drug of choice hiding memories albeit temporary, without having a too major impact on my life, I've lived with a constant fear, anxiety, nightmares and anger outbursts for years, which has cost me several jobs and now I've lost my wife and my family! If you have experienced anything traumatic which simply won't leave you and you try everything to avoid the memories or situations please I urge you to seek help! It has taken me 25 years and a world of heart ache not only for myself but my family also before I found the courage to face this! I've just started on what I believe is an unending road to normality but my resolve does weaken often, I just want to sleep well and feel normal and none aggressive when faced with stress, it has cost me the dreams of my life, dreams I'll never be able to have,so don't let this happen to you and seek help as soon as you think/feel there is a problem it'll take strength and courage, please you don't want to live my life its nothing but destructive. I will continue to fight this for the remainder of my life and try to rectify all that my behaviour has caused in my past, I feel so guilty for my life and the people I have affected because of my condition and more so the lack of courage in facing my issues. This is a terrible condition, a condition I never asked for or brought on myself I have complete empathy for all the sufferers of PTSD regardless of its cause and for the families of the sufferer. Seek help and stay strong

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Reptile said on 20 December 2013

Calvin 227 and others..., thank you, I have become irritatingly OCD - to the point where I cook my food but before I can eat it have to have everything: saucepans, frying pan, utensils etc., washed and put away before I can eat - the food is now cold and ruined. My teeth are being wrecked by my obsessive and harsh brushing.
The event was 50yrs ago when there was no help at all, I dealt with the event by burying it from everyone - I'm a bloke, couldn't show my tears or emotions! The damage was done by the false witnesses, the hate phone calls, the jibes and black looks - newspapers printing the lies, my name and address! The Coroner lectured them and warned them of their contempt - his decision was: 'Misadventure' - a life was lost but I was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time - I was just 21yrs old. False witnesses are criminals and don't know the damage they do! Maggots feeding off the suffering of others! We all need to talk - maybe right here is the place?! I'm troubled that the event has become more vivid than ever before; as if it happened yesterday rather than 50yrs ago. Reptile.

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Cdm85 said on 01 May 2013

I've been waiting for a long while to see a specialist after months of complaining to my GP about several of the symptoms listed - I was assaulted and stabbed last march and it has affected my work and home life immensely - my advice to anyone who thinks they may have PTSD or any similar issue should pressure their GP into referring them to see someone more qualified to diagnose you. I'm getting help too late - don't make the same mistakes - do something about it now.

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redstarfish said on 07 April 2013

As mentioned by User756966 it is hard to get help even from the start, but there is a support network. Don't wait until it's too late to be clear about what help you think you need, and deserve. I hope this message serves people well.

Im now in my 30s and i suffer nightmares and flashbacks from child abuse. I went through the trauma of taking my abuser to court a couple of years ago. Ive seen counsellors - one of which i paid for privately due to the waiting list (i. couldn't afford this for too long). For me, simply talking about it hasn't helped. Ive been back to the doctors several times, but keep getting offered standard counselling. Finally, after an episode where i threatened kill my perpetrator and the breakdown of my marriage, ive had to be very clear about wanting to see a specialist.

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User756966 said on 17 March 2013

why is it so hard to get help from mental health teams after you have been refered by your GP and also why is it hard to get financial help from department of work and pension due to the facy when you go for an assesment as they only seam to look at your physical ability not your mental state i am on E.S.A as the GP says that iam not fit for work but DWP says i am even tho the GP has singed me of in 3 month blocks since 2009 i have also been turned down for D.L.A as they say that i am not AT RISK of halming my self even tho i have got history of severe self harm to and that a friend had to take me in as i was not looking after my self even tho i have worked since i left school until this illness so can any one give help or addvice

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calvin227 said on 27 February 2013

and not once does it mention the most common evidence / symptom of PTSD ... OCD ! ... but then you are limited by national government's NICE guidelines which are politically and commercially motivated ;)

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DavetheBrickie said on 04 October 2012

Severe and long-term PTSD in children is now recognised as a specialised form called "Complex" PTSD, See PTSD leaflet published by Royal College of Psychiatry. The aspects that mark it out are:
(a) the Trauma is over a lengthy period rather than a one-off episode (b) the child has no feasible or perceptible way of escape or rescue; (c) the person is a child or and generally speaking, the younger the child, the more they can be affected. Examples are common among boarding school children, children in care, where the absence of or breaking of primary attachment relationships exascerbates the traumatic stress while the child is in a state of abandonment.

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