Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating mental health condition. It is caused by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as an accident, natural disaster, or sexual violence.
Also known as ‘shell shock’ or ‘battle fatigue’ syndrome, PTSD affects nearly 15% of Vietnam War veterans and 12% of Gulf War Veterans. Frequent exposure to combat and violence makes PTSD common among war veterans.
However, the condition can affect individuals across all demographics and age groups. It wreaks havoc on various aspects of a patient’s life, including personal relationships and finances.
The good news is that, with the right treatment, it is possible to manage or overcome PTSD symptoms. The key is to reach out to a mental health professional at the right time.
This post will take a closer look at the symptoms and available treatment options for PTSD.
Typically, these symptoms are triggered within the first month of a traumatic event. However, it could take several months or years for some patients before they experience the onset of symptoms.
It is important to understand that the symptoms are different from the common fear and anxiety people experience after experiencing trauma. They can interfere with the patient’s ability to carry on with their daily life.
Symptoms are grouped into the following categories:
- Intrusive memories
- Changes in cognition and mood
- Altered physical and emotional reactions
Let us look at each group of symptoms in greater detail.
The most common symptom is reliving the traumatic event through vivid flashbacks. Additionally, patients may experience the following symptoms:
- Nightmares or disturbing dreams about the traumatic event
- Upsetting memories of the event
- Intense emotional or physical distress triggered by exposure to people, places, or objects related to the event
Avoidance symptoms of PTSD can include:
- Avoiding thinking or talking about the traumatic event
- Avoid people, objects, situations, or activities that are reminiscent of the event
Changes in Cognition and Mood
People with PTSD experience several negative changes in their mood and thought patterns. These include:
- Memory problems, particularly failing to recollect important details of the traumatic event
- Distorted feelings of guilt, shame, and anger about the event
- Negative feelings about oneself and others
- Emotional numbness
Additionally, patients often feel hopeless and detached from their surroundings. They may also lose interest in their favorite hobbies and activities. They struggle with experiencing their emotions and maintaining personal relationships.
Altered Physical and Emotional Reactions
PTSD enhances an individual’s natural fight-or-flight response. That, in turn, causes them to become more fearful and stressed, even in normal situations. They become easily afraid or startled too.
Patients may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Lack of concentration
- Aggression and frequent outbursts
- Always being on guard
Long-Term Impact of PTSD Symptoms
PTSD alters an individual’s emotional and physical response, causing them to become more aggressive, fearful, and anxious. If left untreated, it could lead to other mental health conditions, such as depression, paranoia, and anxiety.
Other long-term complications of PTSD include:
- Self-destructive behavior
- Eating disorders
- Suicidal thoughts
- Substance abuse
Treatment Options for PTSD
Successful PTSD treatment involves a combination of psychiatric medications and therapy.
These drugs help balance the levels of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine.
Other medications used for the treatment of PTSD include:
- Anticonvulsants, such as Neurontin (gabapentin)
- Antipsychotics, such as Seroquil (quetiapin)
- Benzodiazepines, such as lorazepam and clonazepam
Additionally, patients might be prescribed mood stabilizers and anxiety medications to manage their symptoms.
Therapy for PTSD
Antidepressants, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and benzodiazepines can only do so much to improve PTSD symptoms. Effective management of the condition requires various forms of therapy that help patients confront their feelings and find suitable coping strategies.
Commonly used therapies for PTSD treatment include:
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Prolonged exposure therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Group therapy
Additionally, patients are advised to build a support network of friends and family members to help them deal with their emotions.
Various alternative treatments are also being used to treat PTSD. These include:
- CBD oil
- Art therapy
Causes and Triggers of PTSD
After a traumatic event, most people are overwhelmed by negative emotions, such as guilt, anger, and fear. However, not all of them are likely to develop PTSD symptoms.
While the precise causes of PTSD aren’t known, the following factors increase an individual’s predisposition:
- Childhood abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual)
- A family history of mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety
- Changes in brain chemistry and structure
- Abnormal stress hormone levels
The severity and intensity of a traumatic incident also play a key role in the onset of symptoms.
The most common events that trigger PTSD symptoms include:
- Combat exposure
- Sexual violation
- Natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes
- Physical assault
Other triggers include receiving a life-threatening medical diagnosis or witnessing the death of a loved one.
It is worth noting that PTSD isn’t restricted to first-hand exposure to trauma. Learning about a family member’s violent death could also trigger symptoms.
The following factors increase an individual’s predisposition to PTSD:
- Pre-existing mental health conditions
- Childhood trauma
- A history of substance abuse or alcohol disorders
- The lack of a strong support system
Additionally, certain job profiles, such as first responders, firefighters, police officers, and armed forces, are at an increased risk of developing this debilitating mental disorder.
While PTSD can diminish a patient’s quality of life, it is important to remember that the condition is treatable. A wide array of medications, such as antidepressants and antipsychotics, are used to help patients cope with their symptoms.
EMDR, CBT, and group therapy are also used to help patients confront and overcome their fears. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to better manage PTSD.