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Post-traumatic stress disorder is a collection of dysfunctional symptoms and behaviors resulting from seeing or living through trauma.  PTSD is characterized by intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and flashbacks of past traumatic events.  This results in avoidance of things that are reminders of the trauma, sleep disturbance, and mood disorders, all of which lead to considerable life disruption.  

PTSD is not well understood.  Not everyone who experiences a trauma will develop PTSD.  Approximately 8% of trauma survivors develop PTSD and we do not know why.  There does appear to be a correlation between specific characteristics of the person experiencing the trauma and the probability of developing PTSD.  It also appears that traumatic events that are intentional are more likely to cause PTSD than traumatic events that are accidental.  

Some characteristics
that contribute to PTSD:

  • ​​Gender (typically women are more likely than men)

  • Age at trauma

  • Less education

  • Lower socioeconomic status

  • Separated, divorced, or widowed

  • General childhood adversity (hunger, emotional abuse, unstable home)

  • Personal and family psychiatric history

  • Reported childhood abuse

  • Poor social support

  • Traumatic brain injury


The most common types of trauma that result in PTSD are:

  1. Sexual relationship violence (eg, rape, childhood sexual abuse, intimate partner violence).

  2. Interpersonal-network traumatic experiences (eg, unexpected death of a loved one, life-threatening illness of a child, other traumatic event of a loved one).

  3. Interpersonal violence (eg, childhood physical abuse or witnessing interpersonal violence, physical assault, or being threatened by violence).

  4. Exposure to organized violence (eg, refugee, kidnapped, civilian in war zone).

  5. Participation in organized violence (eg, combat exposure, witnessing death/serious injury or discovered dead bodies, accidentally or purposefully caused death or serious injury).

  6. Other life-threatening traumatic events (eg, life-threatening motor vehicle collision, natural disaster, toxic chemical exposure, life-threatening illness).

Symptoms of PTSD

People with PTSD can suffer from several types of symptoms.  PTSD symptoms typically fall into the following categories.

1) Intrusion Symptoms

These symptoms are also referred to “re-experiencing” symptoms.  They consist of remembering the traumatic event with unwanted thoughts, nightmares, or flash-backs that are accompanied by anxiety or panic.  These thoughts can occur randomly or when triggered by circumstances that remind the person of the initial event.

2) Avoidance Symptoms

Avoiding people, places, and circumstances that remind of the trauma.  This can negatively affect the person’s ability to function and maintain relationships.  They may avoid work, driving, leaving the house, talking to others, or other activities.

3) Negative Cognitions and Mood

Depression is common with PTSD.  Feelings may include sadness, dispair, numbness, and/or loss of interest in things they used to enjoy.  They may also have extreme guilt about the trauma, blaming themselves for the event.

4) Arousal and Reactivity Changes

Patients may be irritable and have aggressive or violent behaviors, be easily startled, or have difficulty sleeping.  They may also engage in reckless (dangerous activities) or self-destructive behaviors (drug or alcohol abuse).

Medical Problems and PTSD

The importance of treating PTSD is not only necessary for improving quality of life, people with PTSD also have higher occurrences of medical problems.  Studies have shown a correlation between PTSD and cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, liver disease, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune diseases, bronchitis, and asthma.  There may also be a correlation between PTSD and early aging and dementia.

Treating PTSD

First-line treatment for PTSD is trauma-focused psychotherapy.  This has shown to be the most effective treatment for PTSD.  Types of psychotherapy for PTSD include:

1) Exposure therapy: treatment that encourages confrontation of feared stimuli, which can be external (eg, feared objects, activities, situations) or internal (eg, feared thoughts, physical sensations).

2) Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): therapist-assisted identification and correction of distorted beliefs.  This often includes education, relaxation exercises, coping skills training, stress management, or assertiveness training.

For those who do not respond to psychotherapy, medications may be used to treat the symptoms of PTSD.  The most common medications are certain antidepressants (e.g. Zoloft, Paxil).  Less often, antipsychotics may be prescribed (e.g. Seroquel).

Recent studies show promising results for the treatment of PTSD with ketamine or MDMA.  Ketamine is an anesthetic medication that has been used safely for decades.  It has shown to to be an effective treatment for  many with PTSD that has not responded to other treatments.  MDMA is being studied for the treatment of PTSD and shows significant results.  At this time, MDMA (also known as ecstasy) is illegal and not available for general use.  The medical community expects this to change but for now, it can only be used in specific medical trials.

Where to Go From Here

If you already have an official diagnosis of PTSD and treatments have not been helping, please contact your mental health provider or primary care physician.   If you need a mental health provider, contact your insurance for providers who take your insurance. 


If you are uninsured and live in Arizona, please visit:


Connections Urgent Psychiatric Clinic 


Virginia G. Piper Medical Clinic

420 West Watkins Road

Phoenix, AZ 85003



Below is a link for a list of provders in Arizona who charge based on the patient’s ability to pay.


If you are interested in ketamine treatments for mental health dysfunction, please call our patient coordinator to see if you are a good candidate for ketamine.

Call or Text Now 480.341.5174

This information is NOT comprehensive and should NOT be used as a substitute for the medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment by a health care provider.  This information does not endorse any treatments or medications as safe, effective, or approved for treating a specific patient.  All patients must be examined and diagnosed individually to determine appropriate diagnosis and treatment for each individual patient.

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