Understanding Delayed-Onset Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Can PTSD Be Triggered Years Later?

Last Update on May 22, 2024 : Published on May 25, 2024

Delayed-onset post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the rarest forms of PTSD wherein symptoms are triggered after six months or later, in some cases the onset of symptoms can be even longer. Talking about PTSD, the diagnosis of PTSD requires a specific set of symptoms right after exposure to a traumatic event.

However, in the case of delayed-onset PTSD, diagnosis criteria change because the onset of symptoms can be seen after six months or later. This is why delayed-onset PTSD is one of the least diagnosed types of PTSD and I could not find relevant research related to this topic.

In this blog, we will be taking a deep look at what is delayed-onset PTSD, its symptoms, causes, treatment, and more based on available research and studies. So, let’s get started! 

List of Contents

What is Delayed-Onset PTSD? 

Delayed-onset PTSD is a type of PTSD wherein people don’t develop proper symptoms of PTSD right after experiencing a traumatic event. People generally develop symptoms after 6 months or more.

For instance, a person might not develop consistent symptoms till years after experiencing a traumatic event. This type of PTSD is more commonly seen elderly. 

Symptoms of Delayed-Onset PTSD

Below listed are some of the common symptoms of delayed-onset PTSD: 

  • Memories, nightmares, and flashbacks 
  • Difficulty staying asleep or falling asleep 
  • Anxiety or panic attacks 
  • Anger or irritability 
  • Consistent and intense sadness 
  • Behavioral changes 
  • Self-guilt or self-blaming tendency 
  • Easily startled 
  • Loss of interest 
  • Social withdrawal 
  • Numbness 
  • Memory loss specifically memories associated with the trau9\63
  • matic event 
  • Hypervigilance

Causes of Delayed-Onset PTSD 

There’s limited research on the occurrence and causes of delayed-onset PTSD. Research shows that people struggling with some symptoms of PTSD might be at risk of developing delayed-onset PTSD. In such cases, symptoms are not enough to meet the diagnosis criteria of PTSD.

Research also shows that the occurrence of delayed-onset PTSD without the presence of PTSD symptoms is a rare condition. In most cases, delayed-onset PTSD is the result of re-occurred or worsened symptoms.

Moreover, experiencing additional life stressors or traumatic events may increase the risk of developing delayed-onset PTSD. The subthreshold of PTSD symptoms increases after experiencing additional trauma, a study shows. Below listed are some of the possible causes of delayed-onset PTSD: 

  • Additional life stressors 
  • Worsening or re-occurrence of symptoms 
  • Struggling through another traumatic event 

Risk Factors of Delayed-Onset PTSD

Below listed are some of the common risk factors of delayed-onset PTSD: 

  • History of abuse 
  • Multiple traumatic events 
  • Family history or genetic related to mental health disorders 
  • Poor coping skills 
  • Lack of social support 
  • Ongoing stress 
  • Substance abuse 

Diagnosis and Treatment of Delayed-Onset PTSD

If you think you or your loved one might be struggling with the symptoms, re-occurrence, or worsening of PTSD, the first step is to connect with a mental health professional to seek a proper diagnosis. To connect with a registered and experienced mental health professional through online platforms, click below: 


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During a diagnosis, a mental health professional is likely to conduct a diagnosis based on the criteria listed under the Diagnostic and Statistics of Mental Health Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-5) for delayed-onset PTSD: 

  • Physical examination 
  • Psychological evaluation 
  • Structured interview
  • Self-report questionnaires

Coming forth to the treatment process, it’s important to answer or resolve every symptom of PTSD (even if they are not severe), as they could worsen the PTSD more. Therefore, a therapist might help you resolve all the symptoms with the help of effective therapy options for PTSD such as: 

1. Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)

CPT helps in the examination of feelings and thoughts associated with a traumatic event. During sessions, a therapist works on changing perceptions and feelings related to traumatic events and helps them replace them with positive ones. CPT generally involves 12 sessions lasting 60-90 minutes per session. 

2. Prolonged exposure therapy (PET) 

PET is prescribed for clients who constantly avoid objects, environments, or activities that trigger traumatic responses. During sessions, a therapist works in gradual exposure in a safe environment along with teaching healthy coping techniques. 

3. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR helps in replacing problematic and painful thoughts, behaviors, or feelings with positive thoughts through the integration of bilateral stimulation. It helps create a soothing effect that replaces negative emotions with positive ones. 

Takeaway: Healthy and Effective Coping Strategies for Delayed-Onset PTSD 

  • 00Consume healthy and nutrient-dense meals regularly
  • Keep your body moving with regular exercising, jogging, walking, and more 
  • Allow yourself some time and space to recover effectively
  • Surround yourself with people who support you
  • Keep yourself engaged in social activities 
  • Avoid drug and alcohol consumption

I hope this blog helps you understand what is delayed-onset PTSD. For more such content, connect with us through all social media platforms. 

Thanks for reading! 

About The Author

Aayushi Kapoor
Aayushi Kapoor

Aayushi is a Content Creator at Calm Sage. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Food Technology and a Master's Degree in Clinical Nutrition. Her constant interest in the improvement of mental health, nutrition, and overall wellness embarked upon her career as a “full-time educational writer.” She likes to make an asynchronous connection with her readers. Her mantra for living life is "What you seek is seeking you".

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