Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Definition

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type anxiety disorder that develops after any psychologically traumatic event and is characterized by re-experiencing the traumatic event through flashbacks and nightmares. Following stress people may suffer from adjusting problems to normal life known as acute stress response but with time the persons starts to live life normally. In cases of post-traumatic stress disorder the anxiety symptoms worsen with time leading to complete disruption of social, personal and family life.

Mental health, personality, temperament and ability to cope with stress are the factors which play a role in developing post traumatic stress disorder. Females, family history of depression and childhood history of trauma are the common risk factors for developing post-traumatic stress disorder. Medication and psychotherapy are the two main approaches of treatment.

Symptoms

Usually symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder arise within three months after a traumatic event but may appear after one year thereafter.
The symptoms are can be of three types :

  • Intrusive memories where the patient relives the traumatic experiences of the stressful events for minutes and even for days. Nightmares related to the traumatic event are common.
  • Avoidance and numbing of feelings where the patient usually avoids discussing the traumatic event with others and even tries to avoid thinking about it. Other common features are emotional numbing, avoiding activities once enjoyed, hopelessness, difficulty in concentrating and difficulty in remembering events.
  • Anxiety and heightened emotional arousal where the patient becomes increasingly irritable or angry, suffers from excessive irrational guilt or fear, difficulty in sleeping and becomes easily frightened or startled. Another common symptom is having visual or auditory hallucinations.

Post-traumatic stress disorder can lead to number of complications like :

  • Substance abuse
  • Alcoholism
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Weight loss
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Disruption of family, personal and professional life

Post-traumatic stress disorder increases the risk of developing other diseases like :

  • Heart problems like high blood pressure.
  • Chronic pain.

Causes

Although the exact cause is not known, an interplay between many factors leads tothe  development of post-traumatic stress disorder. The main and most important factor is experiencing a wide range of events that leads to severe negative feelings like fear, helplessness or anxiety in the observer or sufferer. The stressful events may be :

  • Witnessing or experiencing abusive behavior (physical, emotional or sexual).
  • Witnessing or experiencing assaults both physical or sexual, accidents, drug addiction.
  • Exposure to war, natural calamity.
  • Getting informed about diagnosis of life-threatening disorder.
  • Childhood bullying, family violence.

Apart from exposure to the above mentioned stressful events, occurrence of post-traumatic stress disorder is determined by a person’s inherited mental risk (increased risk of anxiety and depression), temperament of the person and pattern of release of chemicals from the brain under stressful conditions.

Risk factors

Any person can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, however, certain common risk factors include :

  • Being female.
  • Experiencing trauma for prolonged periods.
  • Childhood exposure to stressful events.
  • Co-existent mental problem like anxiety or depression.
  • Family history of post-traumatic stress disorder or mental diseases.
  • Lack of support from friends or family.

Treatment

Combination of drugs and psychotherapy is the mainstay of treatment. Drug like antipsychotics, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs and prazosin (aimed at reducing the nightmares) are prescribed. Psychotherapy includes cognitive therapy characterized by talking about the event or symptoms and exposure therapy where patients are safely exposed to the situation he or she finds frightening where possible.

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