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Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

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Have you ever felt afraid after a traumatic situation or have you ever come across a person who has had the same feeling? Almost everyone has experienced this kind of emotional trauma at some point in their lives, but this goes away after some time. However, some people continue to experience this trauma for a long time and it is termed as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What Is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder?

It is a mental health condition triggered by a traumatic or frightening incident in which serious physical harm occurred or was threatened. PTSD causes intense fear, horror or helplessness, such as physical assault or unexpected death of a loved one, accident, war, and natural disaster [1] .

Study findings show that the Kashmir Valley in India experience high levels of PTSD symptoms [2] .

As per the National Center for PTSD, about 7 or 8 out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.

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What Causes Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

The types of incidents that cause PTSD are as follows:

  • A traumatic birth [3]
  • Serious accident
  • Violent physical assaults [4]
  • Prolonged sexual abuse
  • Military combat
  • Being held as a hostage
  • Seeing violent deaths
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Natural disasters
  • Diagnosis of a life-threatening condition
  • Unexpected death of a close family member

Symptoms Of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

The symptoms of PTSD are divided into four types - intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions [5] .

a) Intrusive memories

The symptoms are:

  • Reliving the traumatic event
  • Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the frightening event
  • Emotional distress that reminds you of the traumatic event
  • Dreams or nightmares about the event

b) Negative changes in thinking and mood

The symptoms are:

  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Negative thoughts about yourself
  • Memory problems
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Difficulty in maintaining close relationships
  • Detachment from family and friends
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Difficulty in experiencing positive emotions

c) Avoidance

The symptoms are:

  • Avoiding places or activities that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the frightening event

d) Changes in physical and emotional reactions

The symptoms are:

  • Getting easily startled or frightened
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Self-destructive behaviour
  • Always being on guard for danger
  • Trouble in concentrating
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Irritation, anger or aggressive behaviour

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder In Children [6]

Children can also get affected by PTSD and they experience similar symptoms like adults, such as trouble in sleeping, losing interest in activities, physical symptoms like stomach aches and headaches, etc.

Children who are 6 years old and younger experience symptoms like re-enacting the traumatic event through play, and frightening dreams.

Risk Factors For Post-traumatic Stress Disorder [7]

  • Intense or long-lasting trauma
  • Experiencing anxiety and depression
  • Having a job that increases your risk of being exposed to traumatic events
  • Having blood relatives with mental health problems
  • Having problems with substance abuse
  • Lacking a good support system of family and friends

Complications Of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Drugs or alcohol abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Eating disorders

When To See A Doctor

If you are having disturbing thoughts about the traumatic event for more than a month, if you are having trouble in getting back to your normal life, or if you are having suicidal thoughts, consult a doctor.

Getting treatment as soon as possible can help prevent PTSD symptoms.

Diagnosis Of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

The doctor will start by doing a physical examination and ask about your medical history. The doctor will then do a psychological evaluation wherein specially designed interview and assessment tools are provided to evaluate the person with PTSD.

Treatment Of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD treatment involves medication and psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy [8]

It involves helping the person learn skills to manage PTSD symptoms and develop ways of coping with it. The types of psychotherapy used in PTSD treatment are:

  • Cognitive therapy - This type of therapy involves learning to recognize and change thought patterns that lead to troubled feelings, emotions, and behaviour.
  • Exposure therapy - A type of behavioural therapy that aids the person in confronting fear and frightening memories, so that he/she can learn to cope with the situation.
  • Group therapy - It allows the person to share thoughts, feelings, and fears with other people who have experienced traumatic situations.
  • Psychodynamic therapy - This therapy helps the person examine personal values and the emotional conflicts caused by distressing events.

Medications

  • Antianxiety medications - The medications are given to relieve severe anxiety problems.
  • Antidepressants - They help in lowering the symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve sleep problems and concentration. Sertraline and paroxetine medicines are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating PTSD. Prazosin is another type of medication used for nightmares.

If you face any side effects with medicines, speak to your doctor. Taking the medications on time will bring improvement in your mood and symptoms within a few weeks.

A person with PTSD should get timely help and support to prevent the disorder from getting worse.

View Article References
  1. [1] Kar, N. (2010). Indian research on disaster and mental health.Indian journal of psychiatry,52(Suppl1), S286.
  2. [2] Housen, T., Lenglet, A., Ariti, C., Shah, S., Shah, H., Ara, S., … Pintaldi, G. (2017). Prevalence of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in the Kashmir Valley.BMJ global health,2(4), e000419.
  3. [3] Ayers, S., Eagle, A., & Waring, H. (2006). The effects of childbirth-related post-traumatic stress disorder on women and their relationships: a qualitative study.Psychology, health & medicine,11(4), 389-398.
  4. [4] Mancini, A. D., Prati, G., & Black, S. (2011). Self‐worth mediates the effects of violent loss on PTSD symptoms.Journal of Traumatic Stress,24(1), 116-120.
  5. [5] Horowitz, K., Weine, S., & Jekel, J. (1995). PTSD symptoms in urban adolescent girls: Compounded community trauma.Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry,34(10), 1353-1361.
  6. [6] Nisha, C., Kiran, P., & Joseph, B. (2014). Assessment of Post-traumatic stress disorder among disaster affected children in a high school in Uttarkashi district, Uttarakhand, India.International Journal of Health System and Disaster Management,2(4), 237.
  7. [7] Perkonigg, A., Kessler, R. C., Storz, S., & Wittchen, H. U. (2000). Traumatic events and post‐traumatic stress disorder in the community: prevalence, risk factors and comorbidity.Acta psychiatrica scandinavica,101(1), 46-59.
  8. [8] Bisson, J., & Andrew, M. (2007). Psychological treatment of post‐traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (3).
  9. [9] Shapiro, F. (1989). Eye movement desensitization: A new treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.Journal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry,20(3), 211-217.

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