Science Behind PTSD and Traumatic Memories

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric condition marked by repetitive unwanted memories. It disrupts the life and happiness of those who suffer from it. This article reviews what PTSD is, what causes it, and who is likely to develop it. The important benefits of treatment are also explored.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a disorder that may develop in some people after experiencing a traumatic event. It is marked by recurring memories of trauma, nightmares, anxiety, intensified reactions, avoidance of things that catalyze the painful memory, and/or depression.

Who Develops PTSD?

PTSD is fairly common and anyone can develop it. It occurs in people from all walks of life; women and men. Although PTSD is seen frequently in veterans, non-combat PTSD is not uncommon.

Experiencing trauma is prevalent. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, about 60% of men and 50% of women experience some form of trauma at least once in their lives.

Posttraumatic stress disorder is not a weakness. Not everyone who experiences trauma develops PTSD. Various factors can increase its likelihood, most of which are beyond control. In the United States, PTSD affects about 3.5% of the adult population.

What causes PTSD?

PTSD is marked by traumatic memories; bad memories that are difficult to put out of mind. Events that could cause such painful memories include:

  • Violent crime
  • Sexual assault
  • Terrorist attack
  • Natural disaster
  • Childhood abuse
  • Unjust imprisonment
  • Death of a loved one
  • Devastating accident

The event is the catalyst for memories. The memories are a symptom of PTSD.

But what causes the memories?

According to
Northwestern University
, painful memories are caused by a catecholamine chemical, a neurotransmitter and hormone called norepinephrine.

Norepinephrine is responsible for numerous processes in the brain and body. In the case of PTSD, norepinephrine primes the brain to remember elements of the past trauma as a method of helping the individual avoid the same threat in the future.

The researchers at Northwestern state that the traumatic memories are kept hidden in the “shadows of the brain”, making it increasingly difficult for people to connect their inability to function with the trauma.

Is PTSD treatable?


It’s very important to treat PTSD, especially in those who have suffered from it for a very long time without seeking help. Left untreated, life will continue to be stressful and filled with unwanted, unpleasant, and unexplained feelings.

Signs that someone may need help with PTSD include:

  • Routine feelings of dread, worry, helplessness, or sadness
  • Trembling, shaking, rapid breathing, or racing heart
  • Irrational distrust of people, situations, or places
  • Difficulty warding off unwanted thoughts
  • Difficulty moving forward in life
  • Feeling disconnected & alone
  • Emotional numbness

Remember that PTSD can be treated at any time, at any stage of progression. Treatment is very beneficial in most people, even if they have struggled with the symptoms for many years.

Treatment can alleviate the symptoms of PTSD completely, or significantly reduce their severity and frequency.

Jonas Hill Hospital and Clinic

The caring health professionals at Jonas Hill Hospital and Clinic understand what it’s like to feel alone, unheard, and misunderstood. We offer a community-minded spirit of generosity, hope, health, and healing in a beautiful environment.

We are here to help.