What You Need to Know About PTSD

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. Available data suggest that about 8 percent of men and 20 percent of women go on to develop PTSD, and roughly 30 percent of these individuals develop a chronic form that persists throughout their lifetimes.
The course of chronic PTSD usually involves periods of increasing symptoms, followed by remission or decrease -- although some individuals may experience symptoms that are severe and don't go away. Some older veterans, who report a lifetime of only mild symptoms, experience significant increases in symptoms at certain times, such as:
  • Following retirement
  • During a severe medical illness in themselves or their spouses
  • When reminded of their military service (such as reunions or media broadcasts of the anniversaries of war events).

How Is It Diagnosed?

In recent years, a great deal of research has been aimed at developing and testing reliable PTSD assessment tools. It is generally thought that the best way to diagnose PTSD -- or any psychiatric disorder, for that matter -- is to combine findings from structured interviews and questionnaires with physiological assessments. A multimethod approach especially helps address concerns that some patients might be either denying or exaggerating their symptoms.

Statistics on PTSD

An estimated 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women (10.4 percent) twice as likely as men (5 percent) to develop PTSD.
About 3.6 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 to 54 (5.2 million people) have PTSD during the course of a given year. This represents only a small portion of those who have experienced at least one traumatic event, as 60.7 percent of men and 51.2 percent of women have reported at least one traumatic event.
The traumatic events most often associated with PTSD for men are: rape, combat exposure, childhood neglect, and childhood physical abuse. The most traumatic events for women are: rape, sexual molestation, physical attack, being threatened with a weapon, and childhood physical abuse.
About 30 percent of the men and women who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD. An additional 20 to 25 percent have had partial PTSD at some point in their lives. More than half of all male Vietnam veterans and almost half of all female Vietnam veterans have experienced "clinically serious stress reaction symptoms." PTSD has also been detected among veterans of the Gulf War, with some estimates running as high as 8 percent.
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