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What Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?

What Is post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also known as post traumatic stress is a mental health condition defined in the DSM-5 as an anxiety disorder triggered by exposure to a traumatic event. Frequently this disorder occurs in response to witnessing or experiencing a terrifying event like sexual assault or a natural disaster. When someone goes through a traumatic event, they will usually get better after a while despite experiencing some temporary difficulties adjusting or coping. However, for people with PTSD, the symptoms get worse and last for months/years. Symptoms of PTSD are often debilitating and interfere with day-to-day functioning.              

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms           

Symptoms of PTSD fall into one of four basic categories. The specific symptoms experienced can vary in severity from person to person.

  • Intrusion-based PTSD occurs when the patient suffers intrusive and repetitive thoughts like memories, distressing daydreams, or a flashback of some traumatic event. Sometimes, flashbacks can be so vivid that the person experiencing it feels like they are reliving a past traumatic event or seeing it unfold before them.
  • Avoidance based PTSD is when a patient has continuous reminders of the traumatic event. This may include avoiding people, activities, places, particular objects, or situations that trigger a distressing memory. Usually, with this type of PTSD, the individual tries to avoid remembering or thinking about, or talking about the traumatic event.
  • With alterations in cognition and mood-based PTSD, patients suffer from an inability to remember important aspects of the traumatic event they experienced. This type of PTSD can also include negative thoughts and feelings, leading to an ongoing and distorted belief about oneself such as “I can never trust anyone.” The patient may also have distorted thoughts about the consequences or causes of the event, such as wrongly attributing blame to themselves.
  • Alterations in arousal and reactivity-based PTSD may include chronic irritability and having angry outbursts; reacting to situations or other people in a self-destructive way, being paranoid or overly attentive to situations; or being easily startled.                     

Types of PTSD stress disorders  

Research has begun to explore the idea of PTSD consisting of five different subcategories that each require different treatment methods.

  • Normal Stress Response is what happens before PTSD begins; it is a normal stress response that can usually be managed with the support of loved ones or therapy sessions.
  • Acute Stress Disorder occurs when people have been exposed to what feels like a life-threatening event such as natural disasters. Left untreated, the disorder can develop into PTSD. Acute stress disorder is usually treated with individual and group therapy. In severe cases, medication and interventions designed by a psychiatrist may be used as treatment.
  • Uncomplicated PTSD involves just one traumatic incident versus multiple events and is the most straightforward form of PTSD to treat. Symptoms of uncomplicated PTSD generally include nightmares, flashbacks, changes in mood, and avoidance of trauma reminders.
  • Complex PTSD is when someone experiences multiple traumatic events, as opposed to just one. An example of complex PTSD is an abusive relationship where the patient has been abused over multiple events. Complex PTSD is often co-diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder or dissociative disorder. This co-diagnosis makes treatment more complicated.
  • Comorbid PTSD is when an individual has multiple mental health diagnoses. Best outcomes are achieved when the multiple disorders are diagnosed and treated at one time.           

Risk factors                      

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It’s important to note that anyone can develop PTSD at any time. However, certain risk factors make it more likely that someone will develop PTSD. These risk factors include experiencing a traumatic event, experiencing multiple traumatic events, having one or more mental health disorders, and having an unstable home life while growing up.

Why do some people develop PTSD and other people do not?                                

Not everyone who experiences a dangerous or traumatic event will develop PTSD. According to the National Center for PTSD, only about 7.5% of people will develop the disorder. Many factors interact and play a part in developing PTSD, including predisposing factors and other factors that play a role during and after the traumatic event.

Some of the factors that may increase the likelihood of an individual developing PTSD include:

  • Experiencing trauma or living through a traumatic event
  • Sustaining a severe injury or seeing others get hurt or killed
  • Experiencing childhood trauma, including abuse or neglect
  • Not having enough social support
  • Having additional, unrelated stress after a traumatic event, including losing a job or loved one.
  • Having one or more close family member with a substance abuse disorder or a mental health illness
  • Having mental health problems

How is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosed?            

A diagnosis of PTSD usually starts with a physical examination from a physician followed by a detailed history, including a psychological evaluation. Next, there is often a psychological evaluation during which symptoms of PTSD are discussed. A qualified mental health professional will then use the criteria in the DSM-5, which is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

The criteria contained in the DSM-5 include exposure to an event that involved the actual or possible threat of death, either witnessing or experiencing, along with experiencing one or more of the symptoms previously discussed.

Is there Treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder Symptoms

Treating PTSD can be difficult. However, if you have PTSD, you should know that treatment can make a big difference in the quality of life and helping you gain control over your life. The primary treatment for PTSD includes psychotherapy and support groups, although it can also include medication.

Medications

There are several pharmacological interventions, including medication that can help with PTSD, including:

  • Antidepressants- antidepressants are used to treat associated depression and anxiety as a result of PTSD. Patients who start taking antidepressants often notice it also has a positive effect on their sleep. For example, sertraline and Paxil are both approved by the FDA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Anti-anxiety medications. These medications help with the anxiety associated with PTSD and can relieve severe anxiety. Because there is the potential for addiction, anti-anxiety medications are usually used for only a short time.

Psychotherapy 

Psychotherapy includes several types of talk therapy along with behavioral interventions or behavioral therapy. Some of the more common types of PTSD include cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization (EMDR)

All these approaches can help individuals diagnosed with PTSD regain a sense of control and normalcy. Psychotherapy can be delivered in a group setting or during individual counseling sessions.

Can post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) be prevented?            

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While there are not prevention treatments or other factors that prevent PTSD 100%, some factors are known to reduce the risk of developing PTSD. These are known as resilience factors and include having an adequate social support system, having effective coping strategies, and receiving treatment by a mental health professional.

Next Steps for PTSD Research

The National Institute Of Mental Health is one of the leading organizations studying posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There is currently ongoing research investigating the genetic or biochemical foundations of PTSD during the evaluation of new and existing treatments. Researchers are also studying the importance and role of resilience factors and risk factors in developing PTSD. Also being studied is how neurobiology can affect the risk of PSTD.

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