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Post-Traumatic Stress
Anxiety Disorders >> Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an extreme stress response to a traumatic event that threatens your safety or makes you feel helpless. If you have PTSD, you may believe that you’ll never get over what happened or feel normal again. But with treatment and the support of your loved ones, you can overcome your symptoms, reduce the painful memories, and move on with your life. WHAT IS POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after you’ve gone through a traumatic experience, usually one that has caused or threatened death or severe injury. Most people associate PTSD with battle-scarred soldiers, and indeed, military combat is the most common cause of PTSD in men. But any catastrophic life experience—a hurricane, a mugging, a horrific accident—can trigger the disorder, especially if the event is perceived as unpredictable and uncontrollable.

Traumatic events that can lead to PTSD include:
  • War
  • Natural disaster
  • Car or plane crash
  • Terrorist attack
  • Rape
  • Kidnapping
  • Violent assault
  • Sexual or physical abuse
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.

PTSD develops differently from person to person. If you’ve lived through a traumatic incident, your symptoms may appear within hours or days of the event, or they may take weeks, months, or even years to develop. Symptoms can arise suddenly, gradually, or come and go over time.

There are three main types of PTSD symptoms: re-experiencing the traumatic event, avoiding reminders of the trauma, and symptoms of hyperarousal or heightened anxiety. In the days or months following a traumatic event, you may find yourself alternating between re-experiencing the event and avoiding reminders of it, with symptoms of increased arousal as the common backdrop.

Re-experiencing the traumatic event
The most disruptive symptoms of PTSD involve the flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive memories of the traumatic event. You may be flooded with horrifying images, sounds, and recollections of what happened. You may even feel like it’s happening again. These symptoms are sometimes referred to as intrusions, since they involve memories of the past that intrude on the present.

If you have PTSD, you may re-experience the traumatic event or intrusion in several ways:
  • Intrusive memories of the traumatic event
  • Bad dreams about the traumatic event
  • Flashbacks or a sense of reliving the event
  • Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma
  • Physiological stress response to reminders of the event (pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating)
These distressing symptoms can appear at any time, sometimes seemingly out of the blue. At other times, they are triggered by something that reminds you of the original traumatic event: a noise, an image, certain words, a smell.

Examples of PTSD Triggers
  • For an auto accident survivor: The smell of gasoline
  • For a combat veteran: The sound of a helicopter or firecrackers
  • For a rape victim: The sight of a person suddenly appearing around the corner
  • For a carjacking victim: The song that was playing on the radio at the time of the assault

The intrusions or flashbacks that result from these PTSD triggers are terrifying, disorienting, and unpleasant. The natural response is to protect yourself by avoiding them. This leads to the second major cluster of PTSD symptoms.

Symptoms of avoidance
Symptoms of avoidance are prominent in PTSD. You may persistently avoid situations that remind you of the traumatic event you experienced, minimize the event’s significance, or push all thoughts of it out of your mind. Avoidance can also take the form of detachment and apathy.

Symptoms of avoidance include:
  • Avoiding thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma
  • Avoiding activities, places, or people 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 or estranged from other people
  • Feeling emotionally numb, especially toward loved ones
  • Sense of a limited future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career)
Symptoms of increased arousal
PTSD can cause you to feel and react as if you’re constantly in danger. In this state of chronic hyperarousal, your mind and body is on constant red alert, making it impossible to fully relax, be productive, or enjoy life.

The PTSD symptoms of increased arousal and anxiety include:
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hypervigilance, or being constantly “on guard”
  • An exaggerated startle response, or jumpiness
Other common symptoms of PTSD
In addition to the PTSD symptoms of intrusion, avoidance, and hyperarousal, you may also experience a number of other distressing symptoms. If you survived an event that killed others, you may feel guilt that you lived while others died. You may also blame yourself for what happened or suffer from feelings of shame and hopelessness. You may also experience an array of physical symptoms linked to PTSD, including headaches, stomach problems, and chest pain.

Over the long-term, PTSD can also lead to many complicating problems, including depression, panic attacks, and other psychological issues. Substance abuse is another common complication, especially if you’re turning to alcohol and drugs in an attempt to handle the symptoms of PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD in children and adolescents
In children—especially those who are very young—the symptoms of PTSD can be different than the symptoms in adults.

Symptoms in children include:
  • Fear of being separated from parent
  • Losing previously-acquired skills (such as toilet training)
  • Sleep problems and nightmares without recognizable content
  • Somber, compulsive play in which themes or aspects of the trauma are repeated
  • New phobias and anxieties that seem unrelated to the trauma (such as a fear of monsters).
  • Acting out the trauma through play, stories, or drawings.
  • Aches and pains with no apparent cause
  • Irritability and aggression
Most people who live through a traumatic or life-threatening event experience some symptoms at first, such as anger, shock, and anxiety. However, not everyone goes on to develop PTSD. While it’s impossible to predict who will develop PTSD in response to trauma, there are certain risk factors that appear to increase a person’s vulnerability to it.

Many risk factors revolve around the nature of the traumatic event itself. Traumatic events are more likely to cause PTSD when they involve a severe threat to your life or personal safety: the more extreme and prolonged the threat, the greater the risk of developing PTSD in response. Intentional, human-inflicted harm—such as rape, assault, and torture— also tends to be more traumatic than “acts of God” or more impersonal accidents and disasters. The extent to which the traumatic event was unexpected, uncontrollable, and inescapable also plays a role.

Other risk factors for PTSD include:
  • Previous traumatic experiences, especially in early life
  • Family history of PTSD or depression
  • History of physical or sexual abuse
  • History of substance abuse
  • History of depression, anxiety, or another mental illness
  • High level of stress in everyday life
  • Lack of support after the trauma
  • Lack of coping skills

If you think that you or a loved one has PTSD, it’s important to seek help right away. This is particularly important if your symptoms are interfering with your work or home life. The faster PTSD is diagnosed and treated, the better the long-term outlook. There are many places you can turn for help, including your family doctor or a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or counselor.

Unfortunately, many people with PTSD don’t seek out the treatment they need. Some resist treatment because they’re worried what others will think or believe that they should be able to get over the problem on their own. Others aren’t ready to face the trauma and the strong emotions associated with it.

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.

Source: National Center for PTSD

If you’re reluctant to seek help, keep in mind that PTSD is not a sign of weakness, and the only way to overcome it is to confront what happened to you and learn to accept it as a part of your past. This process is much easier with the guidance and support of an experienced therapist or doctor.

Finding a therapist for PTSD
When looking for a therapist for PTSD, seek out mental health professionals who specialize in the treatment of trauma and PTSD. Beyond credentials and experience, it’s important to find a therapist who makes you feel comfortable and safe, so there is no additional fear or anxiety about the treatment itself. Finding the right treatment provider can take time, but a good place to start is with your doctor. You may also want to ask trusted friends or family members for recommendations. You can also call a local mental health clinic, psychiatric hospital, or counseling center.

Help for U.S. Veterans with PTSD
If you’re a veteran suffering from PTSD or trauma, you can turn to your local VA hospital or Vet Center for help. Vet Centers offer free counseling to combat veterans and their families. To find out more about the resources and benefits available to you, you can also call the VA Health Benefits Service Center at 1-877-222-VETS.

Click here for a nationwide directory of facilities for veterans, including VA hospitals and Vet Centers.
Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Treatments for PTSD relieve symptoms by helping you deal with the trauma you’ve experienced. Rather than avoiding the trauma and any reminder of it, you’ll be encouraged in treatment to recall and process the event that caused your PTSD.

In treatment for PTSD, you’ll also:
  • Explore your thoughts and feelings about the trauma
  • Work through feelings of guilt, self-blame, and mistrust
  • Learn how to cope with and control intrusive memories
  • Address problems PTSD has caused in your life and relationships
In addition to offering an outlet for emotions you may have been bottling up, treatment for PTSD will also help restore your sense of control and reduce the powerful hold the memory of the trauma has on your life.

Recovery from PTSD is a gradual, ongoing processing. Healing doesn’t happen overnight, nor do the memories of the trauma ever disappear completely. This can make life seem difficult at times. But there are many things you can do to cope with residual symptoms or reduce your anxiety level.

Positive ways of coping with PTSD include:
  • Learning about trauma and PTSD.
  • Joining a PTSD support group
  • Practicing relaxation techniques
  • Confiding in a person you trust
  • Spending time with positive, supportive people
  • Avoiding alcohol and drugs
Melinda Smith, M.A., Jaelline Jaffe, Ph.D., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., contributed to this article. Last modified on 1/17/08.

Reprinted with permission from http://www.helpguide.org/. C 2008 Helpguide.org. All rights reserved.

You can find the original article at

SOURCE: www.helpguide.org

Helpguide.org: Mental Health, Healthy Lifestyles, and Aging Issues

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