Have you gone through a trauma? It happens more often than you might think. In fact, 60% of men and 50% of women experience at least one trauma in a lifetime.
It’s not a sign of weakness. Unfortunately, a life-threatening situation can have lasting effects on your mind and body. You could develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
About 8% of the population will develop PTSD at some point in their lives. Every year, about 8 million adults experience the effects of this condition.
What exactly is PTSD, what are the symptoms, and what treatment options are available?
Keep reading to find out. In this guide, we’ll review everything you need to know about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. By learning more, you can spot the symptoms in yourself or a loved one.
Read on to learn more about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
What is PTSD?
First, let’s answer the question that’s likely on your mind: what exactly is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
PTSD is a mental health disorder. A life-threatening, traumatic event can trigger this condition. Usually, these events involve the threat of injury or death.
- Military or close-quarters combat
- Physical or sexual assault or abuse
- An accident (such as a car crash)
- Natural disasters (such as a tornado or earthquake)
During trauma, the body’s fight-or-flight response becomes altered. It can cause additional stress or fear, even when you’re safe.
People can develop PTSD at any age.
Types of PTSD
Life-threatening medical emergencies could cause people to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. For example, about one in eight people who suffer from a heart attack develop PTSD afterward. Even learning you have a minor illness or undergoing surgery can trigger this condition.
Some patients with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder relive the medical event over and over. They can still feel like they’re in danger, even weeks or months afterward.
Postpartum PTSD is a common form of this disorder as well.
For some mothers, childbirth can be a difficult experience. Pregnancy complications can turn a happy event into a perceived trauma. Women are at a higher risk of postpartum PTSD if they:
- Are afraid of childbirth
- Already have depression
- Had an unhappy experience with a previous pregnancy
- Don’t have a network of support around them
This condition could make it more difficult for them to take care of their newborn.
The traumatic event that can trigger PTSD may cause changes to the patient’s brain.
Researchers found that patients with this disorder have a smaller hippocampus. The hippocampus is an area of the brain that’s responsible for emotion and memory. Researchers aren’t sure if these patients had a smaller hippocampal volume before the trauma, or if the trauma caused the volume to decrease.
It’s possible that patients with PTSD have abnormal stress hormone levels as well. As a result, a trauma could trigger an overactive fight-or-flight response.
More research is needed to completely understand why some people develop PTSD after trauma, while others don’t.
There currently isn’t a test to diagnose Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In some cases, it’s difficult to diagnose. Some patients don’t want to discuss their symptoms or the trauma they experienced.
You might need to visit a psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse practitioner, or psychologist for a diagnosis.
A mental health specialist will review your symptoms to determine if they interfere with your daily responsibilities. They’ll ask if you’ve experienced your symptoms for a month or longer, including at least:
- One avoidance symptom
- One re-experience symptom
- Two reactivity or arousal symptoms
- Two cognitive and mood symptoms
Avoidance symptoms occur when you avoid places, situations, or people that remind you of your trauma.
An intrusion symptom can include nightmares about the traumatic event. You might also experience flashbacks that cause you to relive what happened. Some people experience mental or physical distress when they remember the event as well.
Arousal and reactivity symptoms can include moments of anger, irritability, or difficulty concentrating. You might begin to startle easily as well.
After a life-threatening event, you could experience mood changes. For example, you might begin to have negative thoughts about yourself.
Some patients lose interest in the activities they once loved. Others begin to feel intense emotions of guilt.
You could begin to experience panic attacks or depression symptoms as well.
Your mental health specialist will help determine which form of treatment is best for you. They might suggest medication, therapy, or a combination of treatments.
Common medications for PTSD include sleep aids, anti-anxiety drugs, and antidepressants. These medications can ease your anxiety and depression symptoms. Two examples include Zoloft and Paxil.
Both are FDA-approved.
There’s also medical cannabis for PTSD, which could help ease your anxiety and depression symptoms.
Talk therapy (also known as cognitive behavior therapy) could help relieve your symptoms as well. This form of therapy encourages patients to process the trauma they experienced. Patients learn how to change how they think about the trauma.
Exposure therapy is common as well. Your healthcare provider will help you re-experience parts of the trauma within a safe environment. Repeat exposure can desensitize you to what happened.
Psychotherapy can help you cope with your symptoms. First, you’ll need to identify what triggers your symptoms. It can help to face what happened to learn how to manage your symptoms.
Make sure you surround yourself with emotional support as you undergo treatment. A support system can give you a safe place to talk about what happened. You can find support groups online and in-person.
In the meantime, make sure to care for yourself. Maintain a balanced diet and exercise. Get plenty of rest as well.
Otherwise, try to learn how to manage your anxiety or stress to avoid potential triggers.
Understanding Trauma: Your In-Depth Guide into PTSD
If you experienced a life-threatening trauma, know you’re not alone. Instead, consider these causes and symptoms of PTSD. If these symptoms sound familiar, try to find help at once.
Your symptoms aren’t strange. Understanding you’re not alone can ensure you get the help and support you need right away.
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