Posttraumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), once called shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome, is a serious condition that can develop after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or terrifying event in which serious physical harm occurred or was threatened, and in more serious cases, death was perceived as imminent. PTSD is a lasting consequence of traumatic ordeals that may cause intense fear, helplessness, or anxiety, such as a sexual or physical assault, the unexpected death of a loved one, an accident, war, or natural disaster. Families of victims can also develop post-traumatic stress disorder, as can emergency personnel, rescue workers fire fighters and police officers.
Most people who experience a traumatic event will have reactions that may include shock, anger, nervousness, fear, and even guilt. These reactions are common; and for most people, they go away over time. For a person with PTSD, however, these feelings continue and even increase, becoming so strong that they keep the person from living a normal life. People with PTSD have symptoms for longer than one month and cannot function as well as before the event occurred.
Symptoms of PTSD most often begin within three months of the event. In some cases, however, they do not begin until years later. The severity and duration of the illness vary. Some people recover within six months, while others suffer much longer.
Symptoms of PTSD often are grouped into three main categories, including:
- Re-living: People with PTSD repeatedly re-live the ordeal through thoughts and memories of the trauma. These may include flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares. They also may feel great distress when certain things remind them of the trauma, such as the anniversary date of the event.
- Avoidance: The person may avoid people, places, thoughts, or situations that may remind him or her of the trauma. This can lead to feelings of detachment and isolation from family and friends, as well as a loss of interest in activities that the person once enjoyed.
- Increased arousal (hyper-vigilance): These include excessive emotions; problems relating to others, including feeling or showing affection; difficulty falling or staying asleep; irritability; outbursts of anger; difficulty concentrating; and being "jumpy" or easily startled. The person may also suffer physical symptoms, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle tension, nausea, and diarrhea (or, irritable bowel syndrome).
Everyone reacts to traumatic events differently. Each person is unique in their ability to manage fear and stress, and to cope with the threat posed by a traumatic event or situation. For that reason, not everyone who experiences or witnesses a trauma will develop PTSD. Further, the type of help and support a person receives from friends, family members and professionals following the trauma may influence the development or non-development of PTSD as well as the severity of symptoms.
PTSD was first brought to the attention of the medical community by war veterans, hence the names shell shock and battle fatigue syndrome. However, PTSD can occur in anyone who has experienced a traumatic life threatening event. People who have been abused as children or who have been repeatedly exposed to life-threatening situations are at greater risk for developing PTSD and other anxiety related illnesses.
The lifetime prevalence of PTSD is 8% in the United States.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy with a trained psychiatrist, psychologist, or other professional can help change emotions, thoughts, and behaviors associated with PTSD and can facilitate managing panic, anger, and anxiety.
- Certain medications can reduce symptoms such as anxiety, impulsivity, depression, and insomnia and decrease urges to use alcohol and other drugs.
- Group therapy can help patients learn to communicate their feelings about the trauma and create a support network.
- Becoming informed about PTSD and sharing information with family and friends can create understanding and support during recovery.
- Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) patient page. Posttraumatic stress disorder
- Kessler RC, Sonnega A, Bromet E, Hughes M, Nelson CB (1995). "Posttraumatic stress disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey". Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 52 (12): 1048–60. PMID 7492257.
- Satcher D, Friel S, Bell R (2007). "Natural and manmade disasters and mental health". JAMA 298 (21): 2540–2. DOI:10.1001/jama.298.21.2540. PMID 18056908. Research Blogging.