What Causes PTSD?


What Causes PTSD?

Oct 23, 2020

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health illness that affects millions of people in the U.S. and doesn’t discriminate based on gender or age. Sudden, irrational fears of danger which do not exist, or constantly reliving a past traumatic event, can lead to clinical diagnosis of PTSD. The condition can be treated clinically with medicine, such as ketamine, or psychotherapy, with many patients learning to manage the symptoms and lead productive lives.


The U.S. National Institutes of Health says that PTSD “is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.” Fear is a natural response to trauma, resulting in near-instantaneous changes in the human body to protect one’s self from danger or to evade it. Most people experience different reactions after trauma, but most recuperate from the symptoms naturally. People who keep experiencing problems may be diagnosed with PTSD.


Symptoms of PTSD fall into three broad groups: Recreating the event, avoiding triggers which remind of the event, and hypervigilance of imagined danger. But people can have other symptoms, too:

  • Not feeling worthy
  • Misdirected sadness or guilt
  • Not being aware of the current situation
  • The pursuit of life-threatening habits like base jumping
  • Low sex drive
  • Chronic pain absent a medical cause
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Heart problems
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Severe headaches
  • Eating disorders
  • Problems with digestion
  • Feeling emotionally numb


Anyone can develop PTSD after going through, seeing, or learning about an incident involving real or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual contravention. Doctors have not discovered why certain people get the illness. As with most mental health conditions, PTSD is likely the result of many factors:

  • Stressful encounters, including the gravity and amount of trauma one, has been exposed to in life
  • Inherited mental health hazards, like a family history of despair and anxiety
  • The inherited features of personality often referred to as temperament
  • The way the brain regulates hormones and chemicals the body circulates in response to trauma


No one knows for certain how many young people and children get PTSD, but they are just as likely to develop the condition as a response to trauma as an adult. Occasionally, the symptoms may be misdiagnosed as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but the key to treatment is recognizing signs.


PTSD has many risk factors, some of which appear obvious, others, not so much. For instance, the first responders of the 9-11 attacks in 2001 were candidates of the illness, due to their chosen profession of dealing with deadly or disastrous situations. But other risk factors can be at play:

  • Physical attack or injury
  • War-time combat
  • Child neglect and/or child abuse
  • Sexual assault
  • Car accidents, medical emergencies, house fires
  • Witnessing a trauma
  • Childhood pain
  • Feeling helplessness
  • Lack of familial support following a trauma
  • Coping with the death of a loved one, divorce, money trouble
  • Having a history of mental illness or substance abuse


The steps involved in the diagnosis of PTSD or another mental health disorder sometimes require visits to more than one healthcare provider, normally a medical doctor and then a psychologist or psychiatrist. The medical doctor will carry out a physical exam to look for medical issues that may cause symptoms. A mental health professional will perform a psychological evaluation including asking the patient about symptoms and signs and the incident or incidents that preceded them. Finally, the diagnosis will be confirmed by referring to criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.


The age-old treatment for any mental health illness is psychotherapy, including cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Patients are expected to attend several therapy sessions, often every two weeks, until there are signs of improvement. But there are other ways to manage the symptoms of PTSD, including the use of an innovative drug called ketamine. Originally used as an anesthetic, ketamine, and ketamine derived medicines have shown the potential for treating symptoms of PTSD in adult patients. The drug is thought to improve chemical imbalances in the brain, specifically targeting neurotransmitters and how moods are processed.


PTSD is a significant mental health disorder that does not discriminate based on age or gender. Its exact cause is mysterious, though living through or witnessing a severe trauma or the prevalence of another mental health disorder could lead to its development. If you or a loved one suffer from PTSD, we can help. Contact us today to learn more about the innovative new treatment options that are available.