Overview Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD can occur after experiencing trauma directly or witnessing a traumatic event. While it’s common to have a hard time coping with trauma, this is a short-term experience for many people. Those who develop PTSD end up struggling with trauma on a long-term basis.
In some cases, the symptoms of PTSD can end up making it difficult to handle routine tasks and functioning on a daily basis. Getting treatment can help people manage PTSD symptoms more effectively, which can likely improve their quality of life.
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Symptoms Of PTSD
PTSD can cause different types of symptoms. These symptoms can be mild or severe at times, such as when a certain sound, sight, or situation triggers memories of the traumatic event.
People with PTSD might experience any of the following:
- Re-experiencing the event — This can include having recurring nightmares about the event, experiencing intense emotional distress when reminded of it, or having flashbacks.
- Avoidance — These symptoms include trying not to think about the traumatic event, refusing to talk about it, or staying away from specific situations, places, or people that are reminders of the event.
- Cognitive and mood symptoms — These include hopelessness, emotional numbness, negative thoughts, trouble remembering things about the event, or feelings of detachment from others.
- Arousal symptoms — These symptoms refer to emotional and physical reactions, such as startling easily, having intense guilt, being irritable or aggressive, engaging in self-destructive behaviors, and having trouble focusing.
Causes And Risk Factors
PTSD can occur after seeing or experiencing a traumatic event, such as a serious accident, natural disaster, or other stressful situation. These events either result in or carry a high risk of serious injuries, death, or other severe emotional or physical occurrences.
While the underlying cause of PTSD isn’t completely understood, possible causes include:
- experiencing or seeing intensely stressful or traumatic events
- chemical and hormonal factors, such as how the brain regulates these during and after a traumatic event
- personal temperament
- family history of mental health disorders, such as depression
Certain risk factors can increase the chance of developing PTSD, such as:
- trauma that is severe or lasts for a long time
- multiple traumatic incidents, such as traumatic events in childhood and adulthood
- co-occurring mental health disorders, such as anxiety
- lack of support from loved ones
- substance misuse issues, such as using drugs
- jobs that have a high risk of trauma, such as emergency medical personnel
How Is PTSD Diagnosed?
A PTSD diagnosis might involve a physical exam to rule out possible medical issues that could be causing symptoms.
When these are ruled out, a psychiatrist or other mental health professional may perform a psychological evaluation, which involves learning about the symptoms that are present and the event that occurred.
To receive a PTSD diagnosis, keep in mind that symptoms must be present for a month or more and lead to problems with functioning in everyday life. Professionals use PTSD criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) for an official diagnosis.
Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)
Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) is a different diagnosis made when someone suffers repeated trauma or chronic trauma. For example, someone being held captive for a long period of time might be diagnosed with C-PTSD afterwards.
Symptoms of C-PTSD can include:
- self-destructive behaviors
- rage, depression, panic, and other emotional issues
- personal identity issues
- chaotic personal relationships
Several mental health problems or disorders can occur along with PTSD. In some cases, these co-occurring conditions affect the type of treatment plan needed for PTSD. Certain mental health disorders along with PTSD, such as depression, can lead to an increased risk of suicide.
Some of the mental health disorders that co-occur with PTSD include:
- Anxiety disorders, such as panic disorders or generalized anxiety disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Dual diagnosis with substance use disorder
Treatment for PTSD can include one or more approaches, depending on which types of treatment work best for individuals and how severe their symptoms are. Some people might have to try multiple treatments to discover which approach is most effective.
Treatment for PTSD also needs to include treating or managing other issues that are connected to this disorder, including co-occurring conditions, suicidal thoughts, or harmful situations, such as an abusive living situation.
Some of the more common treatment options for PTSD include:
- Medication — This might include antidepressants for managing symptoms or medication to treat other symptoms, such as sleep issues.
- Psychotherapy — This talk therapy approach can include group therapy or individual therapy using different methods, such as exposure therapy or cognitive restructuring to help people cope with traumatic memories.
- Self-management techniques — This might include self-care through a healthy diet and exercise, stress management with meditation or another activity, support groups, and frequent social interactions with loved ones.
- Service animals — This can provide people suffering from PTSD with emotional support and safety, especially when they’re out in public.