What is PTSD?

Published on 18 Aug 2023

For some people, suffering a traumatic or shocking experience can result in problems which linger long beyond the trauma event itself, sometimes for years.

Any shocking or traumatic event may precipitate the onset of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) but it is common in those who have witnessed extreme violence or death, such as those who have experienced war (although they are far from the only demographic affected). Other causes may be childhood trauma or other harrowing experiences, such as being involved in a serious accident, for example.

What causes PTSD in one individual, however, may not affect another - factors such as temperament, life experience and environmental factors all impact on susceptibility to the condition. Interestingly, about twice as many women develop PTSD than men (approximately 5% of men and 10% of women), with the difference thought to be related to women’s greater likelihood of experiencing sexual assault or abuse in childhood.

A scenario common in our experience as clinical negligence lawyers, are mothers suffering from PTSD following particularly traumatic labour and birth, sometimes sadly resulting in the loss of their babies. Likewise, those who have suffered with life-changing and life-long injuries as a result of negligent treatment, can suffer psychological trauma in equal measure to the physical trauma.

An individual may experience some or all of the symptoms listed below, with realistic flashbacks and nightmares, or memories of the event, often accompanied by the physical manifestations of stress, such as sweating, shaking and a pounding heart. They may become hyper-vigilant, so they are constantly in a state of heightened awareness to potential danger in everyday situations, despite the absence of cause for alarm.

Common Symptoms include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Recurring nightmares or memories
  • Sweating
  • Pounding heart
  • Hyper-vigilance (abnormal alertness to potential danger)
  • Hyper-arousal (easily startled)
  • Avoidance of places, situations or objects which trigger memories
  • Negativity
  • Difficulty with close relationships

The physical responses many people experience are thought to be related to the release of hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, in the body which then reacts rapidly when it perceives itself to be in an extreme stress/danger situation. The heart rate, breathing and blood pressure all increase and this physical response is real, although the actual source experience is past.

A common consequence of living with these symptoms are problems with sleeping and concentration, both of which have obvious implications from an employment perspective, but also impacting on an individual’s ability to maintain close relationships and get enjoyment out of life. Unsurprisingly, other mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression are often diagnosed alongside this condition.


PTSD is a common, but debilitating, disorder requiring specialist intervention to enable suffers to move forward. The first step in dealing with the condition is to see a GP, who will be able to assess or refer to the relevant services. Treatment will vary depending on individual circumstances, but may involve Talking Therapies, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR). On occasion, antidepressants, such as sertraline, may be prescribed alongside or instead of psychological treatments.

Can we help?

If you think you have suffered an injury through medical negligence, which has led to symptoms or a diagnosis of PTSD, we may be able to assist you with a claim, so please get in touch and have a chat with a member of our team.

Our Personal Injury Team also deal with PTSD claims for reasons other than medical negligence, if you feel you need assistance from them please get in touch and they will be happy to advise you.

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