Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder affects men and women all over the world. It is a psychiatric disorder that occurs after life-threatening, or violent events and prevents people from living happy and fulfilling lives. Once thought of as only a wartime disorder, it is now recognized that PTSD can affect anyone who has gone through a particularly traumatizing event. In fact, more than 5 million American men and women are currently affected by the disorder.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder has been around for a long time. In fact, it was first recorded as Da Costa's syndrome during the American Civil War. Usually associated with military service, PTSD is also called "shell shock" and "battle fatigue." But it doesn't only affect war veterans - it can also affect civilian men, women, and children who have experienced particularly traumatic events.
PTSD occurs after a distressing event, like war, terrorism, torture, natural disasters, accidents, chidhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, or rape. Usually the disorder begins within three months of this experience, although the disorder can take years to appear in some cases. Common PTSD effects include extreme fear, depression, and anxiety. Generally, post-traumatic stress lasts only for a short period (6 months) but in some cases the disorder can become chronic and last for years.
Post-traumatic stress affects both men and women, and can affect children as well. Women are much more likely to suffer from the disorder though - of those women exposed to a traumatic event, 20% will exhibit symptoms of PTSD, and 30% of those women will develop chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.
What Causes PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is caused by a traumatic event. However, there may be other causes of PTSD. In some cases, the sufferer may have been predisposed to development of the disorder before this event occurred. Men and women with a history of drug or alcohol abuse, experiences of childhood physical abuse or neglect, or who have previously experienced sexual abuse, unwanted sexual contact, or rape are more likely to develop PTSD. It appears that these experiences can change the chemical balance of your brain, altering your perceptions of fear and anxiety. This may put you at a higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress.
Symptoms of PTSD
PTSD symptoms are numerous and can sometimes be confused with other mental ailments. It is important not to hide your symptoms or deny them in any way, as this can interfere with diagnosis. There are three categories of symptoms associated with the disorder: intrusion, avoidance, and hyperarousal symptoms.
Intrusion: Intrusion symptoms arrive suddenly and occur when memories of the past event invade your current life. The most common intrusion symptom is the flashback. Flashbacks are vivid memories that can be triggered by sights, smells, or sounds, and cause you to relive the traumatic experience over and over again. These flashbacks can seem very real and are often detailed and filled with emotion. Another intrusion symptom is the nightmare, which can occur unexpectedly, causing extreme anxiety and fear.
Avoidance: Avoidance symptoms describe a sufferer's unconscious attempts to prevent remembering anything to do with the traumatic event. These signs of post-traumatic stress disorder often interfere with family relationships, marriages, and careers. You may avoid being with family and friends in order to hide your illness. You may experience an overall feeling of numbness. You may alternate between feelings of intense emotion and simply no emotion at all. Consciously and unconsciously you will avoid reminders of the traumatic events in order to escape flashbacks. Depression is often an avoidance symptom.
Hyperarousal: Hyperarousal symptoms are the result of stimulated nerves and hormones. You may experience severe insomnia, trouble remembering the entire traumatic event, and difficulty concentrating. You may experience irritability or explosions of emotion for no apparent reason and more frequent startling responses.
Physical symptoms are often part of the PTSD syndrome, as well. Headaches, stomach problems, dizziness, and chest pain are all commonly experienced by sufferers of the disorder. You may also experience nausea, diarrhea, skin problems, rapid heart beat, and high blood pressure.
Types of PTSD
There are four main types of post-traumatic stress disorder. All involve the same symptoms and are only differentiated by the length of time your symptoms have been manifested.
Acute Stress Disorder: Acute stress disorder is diagnosed when symptoms occur within four weeks of the traumatic event and last for more than 2 days, but less than 4 weeks.
Acute Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Acute post-traumatic stress disorder is diagnosed when symptoms last for more than four weeks.
Delayed Onset Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: This form of the disorder may not appear until years after the initial traumatic experience.
Chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: This form of PTSD is diagnosed when symptoms last for more than 90 days. You will likely experience lapses in symptoms for a number of days or weeks in a row, but your symptoms will always return.
Complications Associated with PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder can cause a host of problems if it is not dealt with promptly and effectively. Most commonly, PTSD can cause other psychiatric problems including major depression, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and agoraphobia. Post-traumatic stress disorder frequently leads to substance abuse problems, including alcoholism and drug abuse.
There are effective treatments for PTSD. If you think that you may have the disorder, visit with your doctor and choose the PTSD treatment that's right for you.