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Symptoms and Diagnoses


Dr. Jerman
The experience of psychological distress following a traumatic event varies from person to person. Dr. Mansfield, can you tell us about some symptoms of trauma-related disorders and how they are diagnosed?

Dr. Mansfield
Well, Dr. Jerman, traumatic events are naturally upsetting, and a wide range of responses, or symptoms, immediately following a traumatic event are normal and natural. These symptoms are generally grouped into five categories, including:

  • Intrusion symptoms
  • Negative mood
  • Dissociative symptoms
  • Avoidance symptoms, and
  • Arousal symptoms

Intrusion symptoms include:

  • Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event
  • Recurrent distressing dreams related to the event
  • Flashbacks in which the individual feels or acts as if the event were recurring, and
  • Intense or prolonged distress in response to reminders of the event

Negative mood refers to a persistent inability to experience positive emotions, such as happiness, satisfaction, or affection.

Dissociative symptoms include:

  • An altered sense of reality, and
  • An inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic event that is not related to other factors, such as head injury, alcohol, or drugs

Avoidance symptoms include:

  • Efforts to avoid distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about the event, and
  • Efforts to avoid reminders of the event

Finally, arousal symptoms include:

  • Sleep disturbance
  • Irritable behavior and angry outbursts
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Problems with concentration, and
  • Exaggerated startle response

When nine or more of these symptoms are present for more than three days, but less than a month, a person may be diagnosed with acute stress disorder. If symptoms persist for more than a month, they may be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.