Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that can develop following a traumatic event that threatens your safety or makes you feel helpless. Most people associate PTSD with battle-scarred soldiers – and military combat is the most common cause in men – but any overwhelming life experience can trigger PTSD, especially if the event is perceived as unpredictable and uncontrollable.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect those who personally experience the catastrophe, those who witness it, and those who pick up the pieces afterwards, including emergency workers and law enforcement officers. It can even occur in the friends or family members of those who went through the actual trauma.
Traumatic events that can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) include:
- Natural disasters
- A car or plane crash
- Violent assault
- Sexual or physical abuse
- Medical procedures (especially in kids)
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Following a traumatic event, almost everyone experiences at least some of the symptoms of PTSD. It’s very common to have bad dreams, feel fearful or numb, and find it difficult to stop thinking about what happened. But for most people, these symptoms are short-lived. They may last for several days or even weeks, but they gradually lift.
If you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, the symptoms don’t decrease. You don’t feel a little better each day. In fact, you may start to feel worse. But PTSD doesn’t always develop in the hours or days following a traumatic event, although this is most common. For some people, the symptoms of PTSD take weeks, months, or even years to develop.
The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can arise suddenly, gradually, or come and go over time. Sometimes symptoms appear seemingly out of the blue. At other times, they are triggered by something that reminds you of the original traumatic event, such as a noise, an image, certain words, or a smell. While everyone experiences PTSD differently, there are three main types of symptoms, as listed below.
Re-experiencing the traumatic event
- Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event
- Flashbacks (acting or feeling like the event is happening again)
- Nightmares (either of the event or of other frightening things)
- Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma
- Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (e.g. pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating)
PTSD symptoms of avoidance and emotional numbing
- Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma
- Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
- Loss of interest in activities and life in general
- Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
- Sense of a limited future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career)
PTSD symptoms of increased arousal
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Difficulty concentrating
- Hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”)
- Feeling jumpy and easily startled
Why Should I Seek Help for PTSD?
- Early treatment is better. Symptoms of PTSD may get worse. Dealing with them now might help stop them from getting worse in the future. Finding out more about what treatments work, where to look for help, and what kind of questions to ask can make it easier to get help and lead to better outcomes.
- PTSD symptoms can change family life. PTSD symptoms can get in the way of your family life. You may find that you pull away from loved ones, are not able to get along with people, or that you are angry or even violent. Getting help for your PTSD can help improve your family life.
- PTSD can be related to other health problems. PTSD symptoms can worsen physical health problems. For example, a few studies have shown a relationship between PTSD and heart trouble. By getting help for your PTSD you could also improve your physical health.
Examples of traumatic events which could cause PTSD include:
- Getting diagnosed with a serious illness
- Having (or seeing) a serious road accident
- The unexpected injury or violent death of someone close
- Being taken hostage or prisoner-of-war
- Continuing physical or sexual abuse
- Mistreatment in prisons or torture
There are several possible reasons for PTSD:
- Remembering things clearly can help you understand what happened and, perhaps, help you recover.
- Avoidance helps you not become exhausted from remembering a trauma. It keeps the number of ‘replays’ down to a manageable level.
- Flashbacks force you to think about what has happened and decide what to do if it happens again. Being 'on guard' means that you can react quickly if another crisis happens and can give you the energy you need to carry on afterwards.
- Vivid memories keep your levels of adrenaline high, you will feel tense, irritable and unable to relax or sleep well.
- The hippocampus is the part of the brain that processes memories. In PTSD, high levels of stress hormones, like adrenaline, may stop it from processing the memories of the event, producing continuing flashbacks and nightmares.
Symptoms of PTSD usually start within six months, and sometimes only a few weeks after the trauma.
After the traumatic event you can feel grief-stricken, depressed, anxious, guilty and angry. In PTSD you may also:
- Have flashbacks and nightmares, reliving the event in your mind, again and again.
- Avoid thinking and feeling upset about it by keeping busy and avoiding anything or anyone that reminds you.
- Be ‘on guard’ – you stay alert all the time, can’t relax, feel anxious and can’t sleep.
- Feel physical symptoms – aches and pains, diarrhoea, irregular heartbeats, headaches, feelings of panic and fear, depression.
- Start drinking too much alcohol or using drugs (including painkillers).
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