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When you are startled, you feel a number of things. Your heart may race, you may sweat, you may breathe faster, your muscles may tense (to the point you might even jump), and you may feel scared. This is known as your startle response. For most people, this response is short-lived. While everyone experiences this type of response, those with PTSD may experience a heightened sense of it, may experience it in response to more stimuli, and it may take much longer to pass. Most people are startled by certain things, such as a sudden loud noise, but those with PTSD may experience a startle response from stimuli that doesn’t startle most people. What we know is that people with PTSD are constantly looking for danger in their environments, so even small changes in the environment, such as a hand placed on the shoulder unexpectedly, may cause a person with PTSD to be startled.
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