What Is PTSD?
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sometimes known as shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome, is a dangerous condition that can develop after a person has been exposed to or witnessed a traumatic or distressing incident that involved serious harm or threat.
War, crimes, fires, accidents, the death of a loved one, or any type of abuse are all examples of experiences that can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even after the threat has passed, thoughts and memories recur.
Shock, anger, nervousness, fear, and guilt are common reactions to traumatic events. These are common reactions, and for the most part, they pass. For a person with PTSD, however, these feelings continue and even increase, becoming so strong that they keep the person from going about their life as expected. People with PTSD have symptoms for longer than one month and can’t function as well as before the event that triggered it happened.
PTSD symptoms usually appear three months after an event. However, in some situations, they do not begin until years later. The illness’s severity and duration can vary. Some people get better after six months, while others take much longer.
PTSD symptoms are usually divided into four groups, including:
- Reliving: People with PTSD relive the trauma over and over in their minds and memories. These may include flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares. They may also be distressed when specific objects, such as the event’s anniversary date, remind them of the trauma.
- Avoiding: The person may avoid people, places, thoughts, or situations that may remind them of the trauma. This can lead to feelings of estrangement from family and friends, as well as a loss of interest in formerly appreciated activities.
- Increased arousal: Excessive emotions; difficulties relating to people, such as feeling or exhibiting affection; difficulty sleeping or staying asleep; irritability; outbursts of rage; difficulty concentrating; and being “jumpy” or easily startled are some of these symptoms. Physical symptoms such as elevated blood pressure and heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle tension, nausea, and diarrhea may also occur.
- Negative cognitions and mood: This includes thoughts and feelings of blame, alienation, and memories of the traumatic experience. Toilet training, motor skills, and language development may be delayed in young children with PTSD. Symptoms can vary in intensity. When you are stressed in general or when you are reminded of what happened, you may have more symptoms.
Traumatic situations affect people in different ways. Fear, stress, and the threat posed by a traumatic event or situation are all handled differently by different people. As a result, not every person who experiences a traumatic event develops PTSD. Following a traumatic event, the type of care and support a person receives from friends, family, and professionals may have an impact on the development of PTSD and the severity of symptoms.
After a traumatic event, PTSD can develop. Some examples are:
- military confrontation
- natural disasters
- serious accidents
- terrorist attacks
- loss of a loved one, whether or not this involved violence
- rape or other types of abuse
- personal assault
- being a victim of crime
- receiving a life-threatening diagnosis
Any situation that triggers fear, shock, horror, or helplessness can lead to PTSD.
When to see a doctor
Many people have symptoms such as crying, anxiety, and problems concentrating following a distressing event, but this is not always PTSD. Treatment with a skilled practitioner as soon as possible will help avoid the symptoms from increasing.
This should be considered if:
- symptoms persist for more than a month
- symptoms are severe enough to prevent the person from returning to normal life
- the person considers harming themselves
The purpose of PTSD treatment is to reduce mental and physical symptoms, improve everyday functioning, and assist the person in better managing the triggering incident. Psychotherapy (a type of counseling), medicine, or both may be used to treat PTSD.
To treat PTSD and control anxiety and its symptoms, doctors use antidepressant drugs such as:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as citalopram (Celexa), fluvoxamine (Luvox), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft)
- Tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline (Elavil) and isocarboxazid (Doxepin)
- Mood stabilizers such as divalproex (Depakote) and lamotrigine (Lamictal)
- Atypical antipsychotics such as aripiprazole (Abilify) and quetiapine (Seroquel )
Certain blood pressure medications are also used to treat specific symptoms:
- Prazosin for nightmares
- Clonidine (Catapres) for sleep
- Propranolol (Inderal) to help minimize the formation of traumatic memories