Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a modern name for an old condition. When doctors first formally described it in the early 1900s, the condition was called shell shock or battle fatigue. Today, PTSD defines the long-lasting psychological impact of a traumatic event.
Causes and Symptoms of PTSD
Some types of traumatic events can be extremely severe and long lasting for an individual to process properly and may lead to PTSD. The onset of the condition could depend on the type of event, the person’s involvement, loss of life of a loved one, the guilt of being responsible and the nonavailability of emotional support after the experience.
Anniversaries and reminders of the trauma can often make the symptoms worse.
Examples of such traumas include:
- Terrorist attacks
- Serious accidents
- Combat or war
- Natural disasters
- Violent crimes such as child abuse and rape
The symptoms of PTSD can occur as soon as three months after the event or as late as even a year, but regardless of the time of onset, the symptoms may be managed with medications and therapy.
These symptoms include:
- Frequent nightmares or vivid memories of the event
- Paranoia or anxiety attacks
- Forced isolation
- Substance abuse
- Difficulty in maintaining relationships
Diagnosis and Treatment Options
Like other mental disorders, a formal diagnosis of PTSD involves assessment based on the criteria set by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR).
To receive a diagnosis, individuals must meet the criteria from the following symptom clusters:
- Intrusive recollections: recurrent dreams and recollections of the event, hallucinations and illusions
- Avoidant/numbing symptoms: an effort to avoid people, places, thoughts and memories associated with the trauma, feeling of detachment and a loss of interest in activities
- Hyper-arousal symptoms: difficulty falling asleep, being easily startled, irritability and anger outbursts
A doctor may confirm a PTSD diagnosis if these symptoms persist for more than a month and disrupt an individual’s daily routine. If the symptoms persist for less than three months, it is considered an acute case, but if they last longer, the condition is classified as chronic.
The treatment for PTSD depends on the symptoms and their severity, but may usually involve some form of counseling, relaxation techniques and building emotional support. Medications for depression, anxiety and concentration might also be part of the treatment program along with meditation techniques.
Treatments for PTSD may include the following:
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) or cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
Cognitive therapy helps the patient examine their emotional response to the trauma and its after-effects. The therapy aims at making the individual understand how specific thoughts related to the event can lead to stress or anxiety and how to cope with the feelings without being overwhelmed.
Prolonged exposure (PE) therapy
The goal of PE therapy is to expose the patient to the feared object or context in a controlled environment while minimizing the perceived level of threat. This can help recondition a person’s emotional responses and lead to recovery from PTSD.
Anti-depressants, beta blockers and anti-anxiety medications might all help with PTSD.
Meditation and breathing techniques like qigong can teach an individual how to process a traumatic experience and help bring inner peace.
Traumatic experiences cannot be prevented, but experts believe that PTSD can be managed well by acknowledging the issue, understanding the symptoms and accepting help from family, friends and doctors.
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