PTSD is an anxiety condition that develops after a terrifying ordeal. Traumatic events can have a long-lasting, harmful impact on people and their loved ones. Many people associate PTSD with soldiers deployed in war zones, but it affects millions of others as well and takes many forms. This includes:
Any type of trauma can lead to PTSD. Soldiers might develop PTSD after being in combat or witnessing fellow troops being killed in battle. People who are abused, held captive, lost someone to violence, were involved in a natural disaster or another type of accident also can get PTSD.
The disorder often is associated with war and veterans because it was first diagnosed among soldiers returning from the Vietnam War. There also is a strong link between PTSD and veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because of the horrors they saw on the battlefield. Although anyone can get PTSD, more veterans are coming forward with it than ever before. This may be due to more awareness about mental health issues such as PTSD or simply because recent veterans have had more exposure to trauma. The VA estimates that about 10 percent of the 2.3 million military members who served in Iraq or Afghanistan have PTSD.
Although PTSD can develop after any type of trauma, it also is related to other mental health conditions, including major depression and alcoholism. Many people with PTSD turn to drugs or alcohol in an effort to make symptoms less severe. A person with PTSD may suffer nightmares or flashbacks of the event, have difficulty sleeping or become withdrawn from friends and family members.
People with PTSD are more likely to develop other mental health conditions than those who do not have the disorder. An estimated 50 percent of people with PTSD also have major depression at some point in their lives. Alcoholism is a common problem in people with PTSD, and the rate of alcoholism among people with this disorder is estimated to be four times higher than for those without it.
PTSD also is associated with a greater risk of heart attack or stroke, especially in older adults. The reason for this isn't clear, but researchers suspect that depression and high blood pressure are the main factors that contribute to this increased risk.