What Is The Difference Between PTSD And Acute Stress Disorder?

What Is The Difference Between PTSD And Acute Stress Disorder?

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Post-traumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder are similar stress disorders caused by experiencing trauma. But despite being similar, they are not the same. 

So it’s important to know the differences, including the symptoms of each disorder and how severe they can be. 

The simple answer is this: acute stress disorder is a type of PTSD with mild to moderate symptoms that can occur immediately or within a few weeks after a traumatic event. Acute stress disorder can also lead to a more severe or long-term form of PTSD.

Due to this, acute stress disorder (ASD) is not as severe or long-term as PTSD, which refers to a more general diagnosis involving more severe symptoms that last longer and require more effective treatment.

For more useful information on ASD and PTSD, including the symptoms and forms of treatment, you’ll find everything you need to know below.

What Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder, more commonly known as PTSD, is a mental health condition that develops in some people who have experienced trauma.

The trauma can be a single event, a prolonged traumatic experience, or a combination of traumatic events.

Depending on the traumatic experience, as well as the individual, PTSD can result in a number of mild to severe symptoms that can affect mental health and well-being, behavior, and overall quality of life.

Examples of trauma that can lead to developing PTSD include assault or physical abuse, a serious or life-threatening accident or injury, loss of a loved one, natural disasters, combat and warfare, and extreme guilt for a crime or failure an individual feels responsible for.

What Is Acute Stress Disorder?

Acute stress disorder, also known as ASD, is a mental condition that is both similar to PTSD and a type of PTSD. It is considered less severe than PTSD in general, as the symptoms are typically milder and last for a shorter duration.

Like PTSD, acute stress disorder is caused by exposure to a traumatic event or experience, which can be of varying severities.

This can involve stress, shock, fear, horror, or pain that an individual experiences themselves or witnesses happening to someone else. 

Where it differs from general PTSD, however, is that acute stress disorder has milder, shorter-lasting symptoms, occurring immediately or up to a month after the individual experiences something traumatic.

PTSD Vs Acute Stress Disorder: The Differences

While both mental disorders are caused by stress and trauma, PTSD and ASD are not the same due to the differences in the severity and duration of the symptoms.

Acute stress disorder symptoms will typically last for a month, while PTSD symptoms are generally viewed as more long-term.

Despite that, the causes for both PTSD and acute stress disorder can be the same.

An individual who experiences a traumatic event may develop acute stress disorder, while another individual who experiences the same traumatic event may develop PTSD.

For this reason, the diagnosis of PTSD or acute stress disorder generally depends on the severity and duration of the symptoms. There are also some symptoms that are present in acute stress disorder, but not present in PTSD.

The Symptoms Of PTSD

PTSD can cover a range of stress-related symptoms caused by trauma. In general, though, PTSD refers to more serious symptoms that occur for longer than one month.

What Is The Difference Between PTSD And Acute Stress Disorder?

The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Hyperarousal (triggers caused by certain situations, conversations, or sensory stimulations)
  • Panic attacks
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares 
  • Extreme guilt
  • Irritability
  • Excessive alertness and jumpiness
  • Hypervigilance

Due to these symptoms, individuals with PTSD may also develop other mental conditions, such as agoraphobia, social anxiety, sleep disorders, and avoidance of certain people, situations, or places.

The Symptoms Of Acute Stress Disorder 

While the symptoms of PTSD can include those of acute stress disorder, not all symptoms of acute stress disorder are present in individuals with PTSD.

The symptoms of acute stress disorder typically include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Avoidance of certain situations, people, and places
  • Hyperarousal and hypervigilance
  • Flashbacks
  • Feeling detached or estranged
  • Feelings of disassociation or disconnection with one’s self

As a result, symptoms of acute stress disorder are generally less severe and involve a degree of dissociation with one’s self or a disconnection with others and the individual’s surroundings.

Normal Stress Response Vs Acute Stress Disorder

Normal stress response is a type of PTSD that can also lead to acute stress disorder and the more severe symptoms associated with PTSD.

It is generally viewed as a natural response to a traumatic event, which may or may not develop into more negative symptoms.

Symptoms of normal stress response include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Difficulty sleeping or maintaining one’s usual daily activities
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability or feeling on edge
  • Sadness and anger

So compared with acute stress disorder, the symptoms of normal stress response are largely mild, natural, and short-lasting. The symptoms can occur immediately, as well as last up to a few days after a traumatic experience.

The symptoms of acute stress disorder, on the other hand, are viewed as moderate in severity, developing over the course of a few days after a traumatic experience and lasting anything up to a month.

How Is PTSD Treated?

All types of PTSD, including normal stress response and acute stress disorder, can be treated, and sometimes cured, through a variety of treatment methods. These include:

  • Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), prolonged exposure therapy (PE), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Medication
  • Self-help
  • Support systems and support groups

Depending on the type of PTSD, trauma, and severity and duration of the symptoms experienced, the type of treatment may involve just one type of treatment or several, provided over a short or long period of time.


Overall, the main difference is that acute stress disorder generally doesn’t last longer than a month, with symptoms that are not as severe as those experienced with PTSD.  

In either case, if you or someone you know may be experiencing symptoms related to acute stress disorder and PTSD, it’s important to reach out and get help from a professional. 

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