Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological
syndrome that can develop after exposure to a horrific or
traumatic event, such as combat, rape, or natural disaster. The
symptoms include reexperiencing the event through intrusive
recollections, flashbacks, or nightmares, as well as heightened
anxiety, emotional numbing, and avoidence of reminders of the
All of these symptoms are perfectly normal
human reactions to distressing events, but in most people
exposed to trauma, these symptoms subside with time. In an
individual with PTSD, the symptoms can persist indefinitely.
For example, some veterans of combat still experience PTSD
symptoms years or decades after returning to civilian life.
One explanation for PTSD may be that memory
for the traumatic events is burned too strongly into memory,
and fails to weaken naturally with time. Some experimental
treatments suggest that administering drugs like
beta-blockers, which dampen the body’s
physiological response to fear, may help dampen the symptoms
without erasing memory for the traumatic experience itself.
Other victims of PTSD are helped by talk therapy, in which the
patient repeatedly imagines and describes the feared
situations to a therapist.
by Catherine E. Myers. Copyright © 2006 Memory Loss and the Brain