The newsletter of the Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers University

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder definition

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;
  • Nightmares;
  • Heightened anxiety;
  • Emotional numbing;
  • Avoidence of reminders of the trauma.

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.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Treatment

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.

Further Reading:

  • "Unforgettable"

by Catherine E. Myers. Copyright © 2006 Memory Loss and the Brain