PTSD, which stands for post-traumatic stress disorder, is a condition that affects an estimated 8 million adults in the United States. It’s caused by exposure to a traumatic event or series of events and can cause debilitating symptoms ranging from emotional numbness to flashbacks. Knowing how to recognize both common and rare symptoms of PTSD can help those affected get the care they need.
Common Symptoms of PTSD
People with PTSD generally experience symptoms that can be categorized into three groups: re-experiencing, avoidance/numbing, and heightened arousal.
The most common re-experiencing symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts. Nightmares usually involve vivid and frightening images of the traumatic event. Flashbacks can feel like you’re reliving the trauma in real time. Intrusive thoughts are often related to a specific person connected with the trauma that causes intense emotions.
Those with PTSD may avoid people, places, activities, or conversations that remind them of the trauma they experienced. They may also feel emotionally numb and find it difficult to remember details of the event or share pleasure in activities they once enjoyed.
People with PTSD can also experience emotional outbursts, difficulty sleeping, irritability, aggression, and hyper-vigilance (heightened awareness of their surroundings).
6 Rare Symptoms of PTSD
While many common symptoms are associated with PTSD, there are also less recognized ones that are often referred to as “rare” symptoms. These include:
Hallucinations and Delusional Beliefs
Some people may experience auditory or visual hallucinations that involve seeing, hearing, and feeling the presence of the traumatic event. Some may also develop delusional beliefs, such as believing they are responsible for the trauma even though it was out of their control.
Those with PTSD might have trouble controlling their impulses and react aggressively in certain situations without knowing why. This could include things like substance abuse, risky behavior, or self-harm. Those who engage in self-harm behavior often do so to alleviate the emotions associated with their trauma. Tearing hair, hitting objects and walls, or picking at skin are examples of possible destructive behaviors.
Those with PTSD can experience bouts of amnesia during or shortly after a traumatic event. This type of memory loss usually involves not remembering the traumatic event rather than forgetting other events that occurred before or afterward.
Intense Emotional Responses
People with PTSD may find it challenging to regulate their emotions, often experiencing intense feelings such as fear and anger in response to normal everyday events. They might also have difficulty calming down when their emotional state is triggered.
Depersonalization is when someone experiences detachment from their own body, while derealization is detachment from the outside world. People may feel like they are observing themselves outside their bodies or that the world around them isn’t real.
Phantom pain is an intense feeling of physical pain that seems to originate from a limb or body part that has been amputated. However, people with PTSD may also experience phantom pain due to the psychological trauma they have experienced. These pain often manifest as intense stomach cramps, migraines, and joint pain.
PTSD is a complex condition with a range of physical and psychological symptoms that can vary from person to person. Common symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and irritability are widely recognized, but there are also some less common issues such as hallucinations, intense emotional responses, depersonalization-derealization disorder, and phantom pain.
If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD, it’s vital to seek professional help. Treatment for PTSD typically involves psychotherapy and/or medication. Individuals can learn strategies to cope with their symptoms and manage their condition with the right support system.