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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that some people develop after seeing or living through a dangerous or distressing event. The “fight or flight” reaction that’s normal at the time can linger long after the danger has passed.

  • Common PTSD symptoms include the following:
    • Anxiety, panic attacks or constantly looking out for danger
    • Depression or hopelessness
    • Feelings of guilt or shame
    • Reliving the event through bad memories, flashbacks or nightmares
    • Avoiding activities you used to enjoy
    • Avoiding situations that remind you of the trauma (e.g., not driving, or staying away from crowds)
    • Irritability
    • Withdrawing from loved ones or even thinking that they would be better off without you
    • Having trouble concentrating at work or school

PTSD: what you should know

  • PTSD is treatable — and the sooner you seek help, the easier it will be for you to overcome it.
  • One sign that you might have PTSD is that instead of feeling better as time goes on, you feel as though things are getting worse.
  • Those most commonly affected by PTSD are:
    • Veterans of war
    • First responders (e.g., police officers, firefighters)
    • Survivors of physical and sexual assault or abuse
    • People who have been in accidents or natural disasters
    • Witnesses to crimes
    • Family members or friends of someone who was harmed
    • People who experience the unexpected death of a loved one

How can I get help for PTSD?

If you think you or a loved one may be suffering from PTSD, talk with your primary care doctor for treatment and referral options.

Care for PTSD at Rush

Rush has two specialized centers that treat PTSD:

  • The Road Home Program for military veterans is dedicated to helping veterans and their families face the challenges of life after deployment.
  • The Traumatic Stress Center provides individualized treatment for other PTSD sufferers.

Your treatment team will work together to create a customized plan that addresses your unique situation. Your plan might incorporate these or other strategies:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of focused therapy that can include the following:
    • Cognitive processing therapy, which helps you find new ways to handle troubling thoughts by recognizing how you think and feel
    • Prolonged exposure therapy, which uses strategies like relaxation techniques, approaching stressful situations and talking through your trauma with a therapist
  • Medications, which might include the following:
    • Anti-anxiety medications that help feelings of anxiety and stress
    • Antidepressants that ease depression and anxiety and improve sleep and concentration
    • Antipsychotics that relieve severe anxiety, sleep disturbances and emotional outbursts
    • A drug called Prazosin that reduces and suppresses nightmares and improves sleep
  • Individual, group and/or family psychotherapy

Why choose Rush for PTSD care

  • Rush’s Road Home Program is staffed by many military veterans who understand veterans’ unique needs. The program offers comprehensive diagnostic treatment and referral services for vets and their families.
  • Rush’s Traumatic Stress Center was the first comprehensive traumatic stress center in the region and offers the latest, most effective treatment techniques. The center has especially strong programs for treating trauma in inner-city women, health-related trauma, and trauma caused by terrorism and war. ​
  • Because Rush is a large medical center with many resources, treatment for PTSD can be integrated seamlessly with care for other issues. This coordination is especially important because mental and physical trauma, such as traumatic brain injury (TBI) and amputation, often occur together.
  • The care team at Rush is careful to consider spiritual, family and cultural factors in the diagnosis and treatment process, since all of them can affect how people react to trauma.
  • Rush faculty members have published more than 200 articles and book chapters on trauma and are supported by research grants from many organizations.

Departments and programs that treat this condition