Post traumatic stress disorder is most often referred to simply as PTSD. Research for PTSD has centered mainly on veterans of violent wars and victims of rape, although post traumatic stress disorder can occur in anyone who has experienced significant psychological trauma.
Besides combat veterans and rape victims, PTSD is known to exhibit in persons who have experienced the following:
• Serious accidents
• Natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and tornadoes
• Child abuse, including physical, mental or sexual abuse
• Hostage situations
• Sexual assault
• Diagnosis of terminal or life-threatening disease
• Exposure, real or perceived, to death or mortal injury
Many individuals are unaware they PTSD although they are aware of some of the more generic symptoms. These symptoms are often mistaken for panic attacks and/or intense anxiety. When occurring collectively in an individual, a diagnosis of PTSD is usually considered.
• Increased Startle Response
• Inability to concentrate
• High irritability and sudden outburst of anger or rage
• Insomnia or difficulty in staying asleep
• Exaggerated or increased suspicion of others and of one’s surroundings
Medical professionals tend to look for three primary kinds of symptoms in an individual. These are referred to as avoidant symptoms, re-experiencing symptoms and increased arousal symptoms.
Avoidant symptoms are seen when the individual attempts to avoid situations, people and places which are associated with the traumatic event. Anything that could evoke a memory of the event is usually avoided. In conjunction with this, there is often a deadening of the individual’s general response to people and situations. Those close to the individual may feel she/he is disconnecting emotionally, despite efforts to maintain a connection.
Re-experiencing symptoms often include potent memories of the trauma or event. These memories may intrude at any time day or night. Dreams or nightmares involving the trauma or event will often be recurrent. Incidental daily events may strike a nerve, so to speak, causing the individual to feel or to ask as this the trauma is reoccurring.
Increased arousal symptoms are sometimes referred to as exaggerated arousal responses. Being excessively wary or suspicious of people and surroundings, sleep difficulties, increased anger or rage, inability to focus or concentrate and an increased startle response are all part of these symptoms.
Some mental health professionals feel the avoidant symptoms should be broken into two separate groupings, increasing the three groupings of symptoms to four. The fourth grouping would consist of the numbing symptoms such as emotional deadening, numbness and loss of interest.
In the United States approximately 20,000,000 Americans have had at least one episode of post traumatic stress disorder. The criteria for diagnosing an individual with post traumatic stress disorder is laid out in the manual used by mental health professionals called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV, or the DSM-IV, for short. In general, six basic criteria occur with PTSD.
• Exposure to a traumatic event or stressor
• Increased arousal symptoms
• Re-experiencing symptoms
• Avoidance symptoms
• Lasting for at least one month or longer
• Extreme distress or inability to function in daily life
Although it would be very difficult to prevent unexpected trauma from occurring, early detection in those individuals who are likely to later develop the disorder may prove to be helpful. One study focused on biological changes immediately following a traumatic event. Those who went on to develop chronic PTSD had significantly lower levels of hypothalamic pituitary-adrenal activity. This corresponded with a decrease in their cortisol level. Being that it is frequently difficult to test individuals immediately following a traumatic event, this information is not always available.
Preventative treatments given immediately after a traumatic event involving several or many people haven’t shown to be of significant value. To preventative treatments which are most prevalent are psychological debriefing and global treatments of everyone exposed to the trauma.
Symptoms of PTSD usually appear within three months of the traumatic event. In unusual cases they have appeared years later. Recognizing the possibility of PTSD and seeking help is important. Treatments vary and may include medication, cognitive behavioral programs or support group attendance. More is being understood each day and treatments are being added as more is learned.