Post-traumatic stress disorder (also known as PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that occurs as a response to severe stress involving an actual death, a threatened death or a threat to one’s physical integrity. Events that can trigger PTSD include; car accidents, assaults, witnessing death, serious physical injury, or military combat. Those trigger intense fear, horror and or psychological numbness. Many people are exposed to this type of situations but only some will develop what is called post-traumatic stress. Why are some people prone to PTSD and not others? A possibility could depend on genetic makeup and general resilience of a person. Some people are more prone to emotional pathology than others.
PTSD usually closely follows psychological trauma. However, it can sometimes begin long after it an event has occurred. There are a variety of symptoms for PTSD. Patients frequently have nightmares about the traumatic situation or re-experience it in a form of vivid flashbacks. Flashbacks can be triggered by a memory of the traumatic event, such as, sounds, smells, and or particular surroundings. They can also be accompanied by sweating, palpitations and muscular tension. Traumatic memories can be intrusive and hard to suppress.
Many people who suffer from PTSD avoid situations that will cause them to relive those memories. For instance, war veterans may avoid watching war movies; rape victims may refuse to discuss what had happened to them; for some people it is difficult to recall parts of the trauma. With this condition, patients may have a sense of estrangement from others, experience decreased interest in activities, and have a sense of foreshortened future.
Victims of PTSD also would frequently feel on edge, irritable and or jumpy. They also have a hard time sleeping, and experience problems with concentration and mental focusing.
Post-traumatic stress can last a few weeks, a few months and at times, it can be chronic and be present many years after the triggering episode. In severe cases, it can be debilitating, profoundly affecting a person’s ability to function in the family and in the workplace. Many people with PTSD resort to alcohol and drugs to cope with their symptoms; those then become problems on their own.
PTSD is treatable, albeit not always curable. Treatment options generally consist of psychotherapy and/or medications. The most effective approach is combining those two methods. Medications that have shown to be most effective are anti-depressants with anti-anxiety action, such as SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), some anti-hypertensive drugs, psychotropic drugs from other classes. The use of tranquilizers is very controversial. There is evidence that medications like Xanax or Ativan may actually worsen PTSD in the long haul and should be used with caution. Psychotherapy may include individual and/or group counseling. Family support is crucial. Substance abuse treatment should also be provided if necessary. Untreated drug and alcohol addiction problems intensify symptoms of PTSD and could cause someone to resist treatment.