Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
 

Have you ever been in a severe accident where you, or someone close to you, was killed or severely injured? Maybe you are a solider returning home from a tour of duty. If either of these is the case, chances are high that you are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; commonly referred to simply as PTSD. How can you know you have PTSD? What are the symptoms? Is there any treatment or for?

History

The term post-traumatic stress disorder isn’t a new term. In fact, it was first used in 1978 in a working group that was presented to the Committee of Reactive Disorders. However, just because the term is relatively young, the concept has been around since around the 19th century. In the past, since it was most commonly used to describe soldiers returning from war, it best known as shell shock, battle fatigue, or nostalgia.

It began to receive more attention in the mid-1940s, after World War II, and then again in the 60s after the Vietnam war. In recent years, as more studies and research has been done, victims from many crimes have also been found to have post-traumatic stress disorder. It no longer is used only to describe soldiers.

Causes

Besides soldiers who have spent months, and sometimes years, dodging bullets and seeing their fellow soldiers getting killed, there are a vast number of incidents that could occur and cause enough damage, mentally, to cause post-traumatic stress disorder in anybody.

  • Mugging
  • Rape
  • Torture
  • Being Kidnapped
  • Child Abuse
  • Car Accidents
  • Bombings
  • Natural Disasters

Doctors are continually doing research in an effort to better understand PTSD. Scientists have even discovered that studying parts of the brain may lead to finding more causes. The major part of the brain that scientist are focusing on is called the amygdala; the part of the brain that is responsible for emotions, learning, and even memory.

In this part of the brain, the memories of how we reacted to fearful situations are stored. It’s from this part, scientist believe, that our body pulls from when we encounter similar events to those in our past. However, if you have ever had a head injury, it could send the amygdala into over drive and cause post-traumatic stress disorder, without you ever experiencing a fearful, or stressful, situation.

PTSD Info

Who is Most at Risk for Developing PTSD?

The answer to this question is simple: everyone is at risk of developing PTSD. With that being said, there are some factors that may make one person more susceptible than another. Age is not a factor; children can suffer just as much as adults. Also, women are more apt to develop PTSD and it also can run in families.

Here are some of the risk factors in those that develop post-traumatic stress disorder:

  • Surviving a dangerous event
  • People who suffered from mental illness
  • Getting injured
  • The feeling of extreme fear
  • Having little to no social support after the event

Symptoms

If you are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, chances are you are having one, or quite possibly multiple, symptoms that interfere with your life. Remember, it can sometimes take up to three months for symptoms to show.

Symptoms come in three different categories: re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyper arousal.

1. Re-experiencing Symptoms

Re-experiencing symptoms are those that continue to come back and are usually caused by something triggering your memory and bringing the traumatic even back to your mind. There can include:

  • Flashbacks-re-living the event over and over. These are usually accompanied with actual, physical symptoms of heart racing and sweating.
  • Frightening thoughts
  • Bad Dreams

2. Avoidance Symptoms

These are the symptoms that can affect your life the most, causing you change how you live, just to avoid another traumatic event from happening.

  • Avoiding people, places, and objects that remind you of the event
  • Feeling guilty, depressed, or worried
  • Feeling numb
  • Loss of interest in activities you once found enjoyable.

Avoidance symptoms not only affect the person suffering from PTSD, but can also affect family and friends. These symptoms can even cause a person to change their routine. For example, after a severe car accident, the sufferer may never drive, or even ride, in a car again.

3. Hyper-Arousal Symptoms

Hyper-arousal symptoms are usually constant rather than being trigger; they are usually always having to be dealt with. These symptoms may make daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, and concentrating, almost impossible. Some of these symptoms are as follows:

Children have also been known to suffer from PTSD, sometimes more so than adults. We must remember, children are more sensitive to trauma than adults are: and sometimes their symptoms are more severe. If your child is showing any of these symptoms, it may be best to have them checked for PTSD.

  • Bedwetting, even after the child has been potty trained.
  • Inability to talk
  • Replaying the event during their play time
  • Clinginess with a parent or other adult

Older children and teens often show signs similar to those of adults. They may also develop rude and disrespectful behavior. It’s very easy for teens also to feel guilty, especially thinking they could have prevented the accident. Furthermore, if the accidents involved wrong-doing by another person, teens are more likely to feel a need for revenge.

Children PTSD Symptoms

Types of PTSD

There are basically two different types of post-traumatic stress disorder, acute and chronic. Acute stress disorder, ASD for short, occurs when someone has symptoms but, they go away after a few weeks. On the other hand, chronic stress disorder is when the patient endures symptoms for several weeks, or even years, and it becomes an ongoing problem. It’s important to note that there have been instances of a person not displaying symptoms for several weeks after the accident occurs.

Treatment

Acute stress disorder usually doesn’t require any treatment, just time and patience. However, if your post-traumatic stress disorder is chronic, it is wise to seek treatment from a professional instead of living with it.

To be diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress disorder, you must experience at least 3 avoidance symptoms, 1 re-experiencing symptom, and 2 hyper-arousal symptoms for 1 month at least. If the trauma in on-going, such as an abusive relationship or sexual harassment, it is important that it be treated and done away with so that treatment for the disorder can commence.

When it comes to treatment, everyone is different. What works for one patient may not work for another. Sometimes, to determine what treatment is best, it’s nothing more than trial and error.

There are two main types of treatment for people with PTSD: Psychotherapy and medicine.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, commonly known as “talk” therapy, is where the patients sits down with a mental health professional, either one-on-one or in groups. An important factor in talk therapy’s success, which can last 6-12 weeks or longer, is support from friends and family to share and talk about what happened.

Within the psychotherapy category, there are three different therapies that may be used.

  • Exposure Therapy – Just as it sounds, this type of therapy exposes the patient to what caused them to develop PTSD. This can be done through imagery, writing about it, or even actually visiting the location when the incident occurred.
  • Cognitive Restructuring – Sometimes, PTSD victims remember the trauma differently than it actually happened. In this type of therapy, the mental health professional walks the patient through what happened in a realistic way of thinking.
  • Stress inoculation training – This therapy helps the patient lower their anxiety levels. Either through breathing, or getting their mind on something else, the health professional helps the patient cope with the tragedy.
Stress inoculation training

Medicine

In the U.S, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved two medications for the treatment of PTSD: paroxetine (brand name Paxil) and sertraline (brand name Zoloft). Both of these are considered antidepressants and are also used to treat* depression. Because they are antidepressants, the help to control worry, anger, and sadness.

As with most medications, there are side effects. Though they eventually go away, these side effects can be annoying. If you think the side effects you are having are abnormal, you should contact your doctor immediately.

The most common side effects for these two medications are:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Agitation
  • Reduced* Sex Drive

It is possible to manipulate which side effects you have by changing the dosage or the time of day you take the medicine.

Conclusion

Through treatment and support, it is possible to live with PTSD. If you are suffering from it, don’t be ashamed of it or embarrassed to seek help. As more studies and research is done, we will have a better understanding of the causes and effects of this horrible disorder.

The truth is, no matter how prepared you are; accidents will always happen. It is how we deal with those accidents in the days and weeks following that determine their lasting effect. If you are in doubt, or worried you might be showing signs, seek out help

References

  • http://www.theijoem.com/ijoem/index.php/ijoem/article/viewArticle/127
  • http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/
  • http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder

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Author

Expert Author : Dr. Ahmed Zayed (Consumer Health Digest)

Dr. Ahmed Zayed Helmy holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. He has completed his degree in 2011 at the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed believes in providing knowledgeable information to readers. Other than his passion for writing, currently he is working as a Plastic surgeon and is doing his masters at Ain shams University.