Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Definition

Post-traumatic stress disorder refers to the mental condition, in which frequent recollections of a previous traumatic event keep disturbing the patients. Not every person going through a traumatic event would develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Many people cope well with overwhelming situations with time, however, in some individuals the condition may lead to significant mental health debility and might need medical intervention.

Symptoms

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder may include the following:

  • Nightmare
  • Flashbacks
  • Emotional numbness
  • Heightened anxiety
  • Lack of interest in routine activities and pleasurable activities.
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, or worthlessness.
  • Getting startled easily
  • Brief awakenings from sleep (less common).
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Lack of concentration
  • Distancing from others, avoiding relationships
  • Angry outbursts

Causes

Conditions that invoke strong feelings of fear, horror, or helplessness, can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder in some individuals. Serious injury, death of a loved one, physical abuse, rape, natural disasters, and sexual assault are some of such conditions.

The reasons post-traumatic stress disorder affects some people more than others, is not clear. However, the factors that may play an important role in development of PSTD may be a combination of:

  • Inherited mental health problems like anxiety and depression.
  • Traumatic childhood or adolescence.
  • Temperament and personality.
  • Levels of various brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) like serotonin.
  • Body’s response to stress.

Treatment

Treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder depends on the severity and duration of the symptoms. Treatment aims to improve the symptoms and teach the person ways to cope with the emotional stress.

Medication

  • Drugs called antipsychotics are recommended to provide relief from severe anxiety, emotional outbursts and to improve sleep pattern and quality.
  • Antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs (such as sertraline and paroxetine) help ease depression, concentration problems, and anxiety. They are also effective for people with difficulty sleeping.
  • Anti-anxiety drugs manage and reduce heightened status of anxiety and stress.
  • Drugs called mood stabilizers may also be prescribed to some patients of post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • For patients with recurrent nightmares, a drug called prazosin has proven to be very effective. Prazosin works by regulating the brain’s response to norepinephrine, a brain chemical.

Psychotherapy

  • Psychotherapy helps immensely in people showing extreme anxiety.
  • In cognitive therapy, which is a form of psychotherapy, emphasis is put on recognizing negative thoughts and on slowly learning ways to avoid them.
  • Exposure therapy, which is a behavioral form of psychotherapy, helps the patients by exposing them to the frightening situations, in a safe environment. Gradually the patients learn to face the situations and associated fears without being overwhelmed by them.
  • Psychotherapy also helps the patients in overcoming their ‘survivor guilt’
  •  In a technique called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing or EMDR, various therapeutic approaches with rhythmic stimulation (for example, eye movements) are used to stimulate the information-processing mechanisms in the brain. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing has been shown to be very effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder in many patients.
  • Hypnosis and other relaxation techniques are also seen to be useful in case of many patients.

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