Overview Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD Definition

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that occurs when someone lives through a traumatic event.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 3.5% of the American population currently suffers from PTSD.

PTSD causes many scary symptoms that can often feel impossible to escape or recover from.

PTSD is a disorder that is often associated with military and war veterans, but it is not exclusive to those with military history. Anyone is susceptible to developing PTSD if he or she has lived through a traumatic event. People who suffer from PTSD have a difficult time coping with a traumatic event that they have experienced in a healthy way.

Common traumatic events that cause a person to develop PTSD include:

  • War or combat
  • Physical abuse
  • Mental or emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • An assault
  • An accident
  • Being trapped or held hostage
  • The sudden death of a loved one
  • Witness an emotionally distressing event
  • Witnessing or being victim to acts of violence or terror
  • Witnessing a natural disaster
  • Being diagnosed with a serious or life-threatening medical condition

Symptoms Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Symptoms Of PTSD
PTSD causes patients to experience symptoms that have a major impact on their mental health.

Common symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, mood swings, insomnia and panic attacks.

When a patient develops PTSD, he or she will show indicative signs for diagnosis. A person with PTSD may or may not previously have low stress tolerance skills, which make a patient vulnerable to developing PTSD. Anyone has the potential to develop PTSD.

A person with PTSD will show the following symptoms:

  • Flashbacks (seeing or feeling sensations of re-living the traumatic event)
  • Avoidance of triggers or acceptance of events
  • Nightmares or night terrors
  • Muscle tension or trembling
  • Feelings of guilt or shame about event
  • Denial of the situation or events
  • Isolation and withdrawal
  • Panic attacks
  • Development of phobias
  • Trying to numb, or turn off emotions
  • Hyper-arousal (a constant state of sensitivity that causes irritability and excitability)
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty concentrating

Causes And Risk Factors Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD is caused when a patient goes through something so traumatic that the brain is permanently scarred by the event.

People tend to think it can only happen to military veterans, but this is not the case. Anyone who has witnessed or had to deal with a traumatic event can develop PTSD.

PTSD is a mental health disorder that is triggered by a traumatic event. Traumatic events are subjective. This means that what is considered traumatic to some may not be considered traumatic to others.

Even though PTSD is subjective, there are certain situations that put a person at high risk of developing PTSD. Some factors include:

  • A near-death experience
  • Physical, mental, emotional or sexual abuse or assault
  • Being involved in an accident, such as a car crash or natural disaster
  • Witnessing the death, torture, or dismemberment of another person
  • Physical injury
  • Combat or military history
  • Domestic violence, abuse or assault

Anyone can develop PTSD, but there are determining risk factors that make some people more susceptible to developing PTSD. Some points to consider are:

  • For how long was the patient affected? – The longer the person was exposed to the traumatic event, the stronger the risk of developing PTSD.
  • How distressing was the event? – The level of distress the traumatic event creates the bigger the scar it leaves on the patient
  • What kind of coping strategies does the patient utilize? – Poor coping skills or poor stress management skills will reduce the patient’s ability to cope with the traumatic event.
  • Does the patient suffer from other mental health disorders? – Pre-existing mental health disorders like depression and anxiety will affect the patient’s chances of developing PTSD.

Treatment Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Treatment Of PTSD

Going through treatment for PTSD is not easy, but without proper therapy and treatment the condition is likely to get worse.

The more time that goes by without being properly treated, the stronger the symptoms will grow.

Depending on the type of traumatic experience a person has faced, it can be difficult to reach out for help. Despite the difficulty, it is important to be brave and seek help.

Treatment of PTSD can be difficult to go through. In order to properly treat PTSD the patient must speak about the traumatic events, which is often hard to do. Often, the patient seeking treatment will suffer from distressing feelings with regard to their trauma, like grief, anger, resentment, guilt, shame, and anxiety. If the patient is able to properly work through and grieve the traumatic events that caused the PTSD, he or she will be able to reduce the symptoms. He or she will also learn effective coping skills for treatment.

The following are effective forms of therapy for PTSD:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT will teach the patient techniques of how to come to terms with the reality of the traumatic event.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): People with PTSD tend to suppress their emotions, which causes the symptoms. DBT teaches the patient how to stop suppressing the emotions and accept what happened to him or her.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is a form of therapy in which a patient is asked to follow a pointer with his or her eyes while recounting the traumatic events. Following the pointer with one’s eyes prevents the brain from overwhelming the sensory system. This prevents the symptomatic reaction when talking about the traumatic event.

How Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Affects The Brain

How Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Affects The Brain

The brain has a significant reaction to trauma and prolonged abuse.

The main areas of the brain that are affected are the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex.

This effect on the brain affects a person’s sense of personal safety and security in the world around them.

People with PTSD will suffer from symptoms that are the result of the brain’s struggle to cope with and understand the traumatic event that has occurred. The brain is impacted in different ways after experiencing a traumatic event. There are several different areas of the brain that are affected by trauma or abuse. Three major areas of the brain that are affected by PTSD are the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex.

The Amygdala

The amygdala is the part of the brain that is responsible for processing fear and emotional responses. A PTSD patient becomes hypersensitive to anything that reminds him or her of the traumatic event. As a result, the patient will experience a hyperactive stress and fear reaction. This will engage the nervous system, which will cause the body to react in a fight-or-flight response. When a patient is triggered, this response will result in feelings like:

  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • An imminent sense of danger
  • An urgency to escape his or her surroundings
  • Panic attacks
  • Stress and emotional reactivity

The Hippocampus

The hippocampus is the memory center of the brain. The memory functions are severely affected when a person experiences trauma. The hippocampus stores memories for later use. Things around the patient that remind him or her of aspects of the traumatic event trigger these memories.

For example

If a person was assaulted next to a bakery, the smell of baking bread could cause a flashback. This is because the hippocampus made the connection between the scents of bread in the present with smelling the bread during the assault.

With PTSD a patient’s hippocampus will function improperly. This will cause the patient to not be able to discern between the past and present. The amygdala’s emotional response to the trigger will result in the patient reacting as if he or she is reliving the traumatic situation.

The Prefrontal Cortex

The function of the prefrontal cortex is to regulate complex functioning. The prefrontal cortex plays a major role in the functioning of thoughts, emotions and behavior. The amygdala triggers a response from the prefrontal cortex. The regulatory functions of the prefrontal cortex are negatively impacted in the brain of a patient with PTSD. This results in the patient being less able to control his or her emotional and behavioral response to stress.

Each of these regions of the brain are interconnected. Each affect each other and each can be stimulated as a result of the others. These three areas of the brain are the most affected in a patient with PTSD. With counseling, the damaging affects to these areas of the brain can be mended. With commitment and patience, the patient can heal and recover from PTSD.

Does Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Go Away?

The memories of fear and pain that a person feels when going through a traumatic event will not go away. They are significant and influential memories that will have a deep and withstanding impact on a patient.

It is possible to decrease how intensely these memories affect the patient. With therapy the emotional and behavioral responses can be corrected and a person can return to his or her normal self.

It does take time, patience, and commitment to therapy, but it is possible to recover from PTSD and live a healthy, happy life.

Symptoms Of Schizophrenia

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that has a profound and devastating effect on a person’s life. It is developed after a person experiences a traumatic event, like abuse, assault, or near-death experience. Patients who have PTSD often experience a shift in personality. The way in which they see themselves and the world are deeply affected. PTSD causes a patient’s self-image, perspective on life, and overall ability to function to be negatively impacted.

When a patient develops PTSD, he or she will experience changes in their behavior and mental health, like:

  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Disinterest in things he or she used to enjoy
  • Hypersensitivity, especially when confronted by a trigger
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Acute anxiety
  • Insomnia

PTSD is an intrusive disorder that often causes a patient to lose hope in recovery, but it is possible to recover from PTSD. People often wonder if PTSD ever goes away, and it is a complicated question to answer. The memories of the events that deeply impacted the patient do not go away. The goal of therapeutic intervention is to lessen the emotional and behavioral response associated with those memories. Some common responses to the memories of traumatic experiences include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Hypersensitive threat-reaction response (fight-or-flight)
  • Rage and irritability
  • Fearfulness
  • Guilt and shame

Each of these responses to PTSD are overpowering to a patient. It is important for a patient suffering from PTSD to seek counseling. If the patient does not, it is likely he or she will develop maladaptive coping strategies. Common maladaptive coping strategies include:

  • Suppression – the pushing down or bottling up emotions and memories
  • Dissociation – a mental and spiritual disconnect from one’s body in a time of stress
  • Displacement – taking out anger, fear and frustrations on others

While these coping strategies may seem effective in the moment of high stress, they can be damaging to the patient. When a person engages in these maladaptive coping strategies he or she prevents the brain from processing the information. This prevents the patient from being able to differentiate between real and imagined danger.

It is important to get counseling to avoid the development or strengthening of maladaptive coping strategies. Recovery from PTSD is a grueling and emotionally taxing process, but it is effective. It will not erase the traumatic event(s) that the patient experienced, but it will help the patient learn how to accept, grieve, and understand the situation without having to relive it.

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