Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a subclass of anxiety disorder that affects some people after they go through a traumatic event, such as a crime, accident, war combat or natural disaster.
Like most anxiety disorders, PTSD is not a normal constellation of emotions and often places a large amount of stress on the patient and his or her family. Intensive therapy is usually the best treatment option for people suffering from PTSD.
People suffering from PTSD often relive the traumatic events via intense, overwhelming memories. These memories can occur as flashbacks and vivid nightmares. PTSD patients actively avoid anything that reminds them of their trauma. Furthermore, according to American Psychological Association (APA), people with PTSD have intense feelings of anxiety that disrupt their lives. When symptoms of PTSD begin to adversely affect the patient’s life, medical treatment is often necessary.
Who Gets It?
There are certain situations that increase the risk of suffering from PTSD. Moreover, certain professions, usually ones that expose workers to dangerous situations, increase the risk of PTSD.
Those who were victims, witnesses or exposed to a life-threatening event
Survivors of violent crimes, like domestic abuse, rape or physical attacks
Those who have experienced unexpected accidents, natural disasters or terrorist attacks
War veterans or civilians exposed to war
Anyone who goes through the sudden death of a loved one
Emergency responders exposed to traumatic events as they treat victims of that event
Neglected or abused children
Physicians are unsure as to why some people get PTSD, while others who go through the same trauma do not. However, the most commonly accepted theory is that PTSD, like most other anxiety disorders, is linked with certain conditions like:
Inherited genetic risks that predispose patients to mental health risks
Life experiences, including the amount and severity of trauma experienced throughout life
Physiologic brain patterns that control the regulation of your body’s chemicals and hormones
Symptoms of PTSD commonly start within three moths of the traumatic event. In rare cases, the symptoms can be delayed and may only manifest many years after the event. Signs of PTSD often come and go as patients exhibit signs when they are in stressful situations. The symptoms also appear when the patient is exposed to something that reminds him or her of the causal event. For example, a rape victim may experience PTSD symptoms after hearing a news report on another rape case.
There are three types of PTSD symptoms – intrusive memories, hyperarousal and avoidance associated with numbing.
Intrusive memories are characterized by powerful flashbacks that force the patient to relive the traumatic event. These flashbacks can last a few minutes or a few days. Often, these memories are so vivid that the patient has a difficult time distinguishing the past from the present. Intrusive memories also include disturbing dreams about the traumatic event.
Symptoms of hyperarousal
Symptoms of hyperarousal include touchiness and fury, an overwhelming sense of guilt (also known as survivor’s guilt), self-destructive behavior (e.g., drinking or substance abuse), insomnia, hallucinations, and being easily startled. PTSD patients often react violently when surprised. Hyperaroused states often lead to actions that the patient regrets once his or emotional state has reverted back to normal.
PTSD patients may try to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event and may be emotionally numb to all events. They tend to avoid social activities, even ones that they used to enjoy. They often have problems concentrating and may forget things. Serious cases of PTSD can force the patient to feel hopeless. All of these symptoms make it very difficult for the patient to maintain close personal relationships.
Effects on the Family
Living with someone who has PTSD takes a toll on even the most caring families. Spouses, parents and other close relations often show distress as a result of the situation. Children with a parent with PTSD are more likely to develop behavioral problems.
Family members may react with sympathy when they see a loved one suffering from PTSD. They may not understand all the details but they know that their loved one is having problems. However, as time goes on and the symptoms don’t improve, these feelings of sympathy are quickly replaced with more negative emotions.
PTSD often changes a person so dramatically that they do not resemble the person the family knew prior to the trauma.
This makes if difficult for their families to have positive feelings. They may feel like they have lost their loved one. Friends and relatives may experience anger and guilt, according to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs. Most people feel guilty that they are unable to help their loved one and in time, this can lead to frustration and anger. Family members, especially spouses, may get angry because their partner can’t get a job, is abusing a substance, or is often very irritable.
In some cases, family members may show an avoidance reaction similar to that exhibited by the person with PTSD. Patients avoid things that remind them of the trauma and this may force family members to avoid the same things.
The most common effect seen in families suffering because of PTSD is depression. Almost every member of the family will experience some depression due to their inability to truly help their loved one. As the disease lingers, family members begin to lose hope and may believe that they will suffer with PTSD for the rest of their lives.
PTSD disrupts almost every aspect of the patient’s life. The patient’s job, relationships and overall life enjoyment suffer during the disease.
People with PTSD are often more likely to develop certain medical conditions. The risk of developing cardiovascular disease is higher in patients with PTSD. Patients often develop musculoskeletal conditions and those conditions may lead to some form of chronic pain. PTSD is also associated with autoimmune disorders like thyroid disease and rheumatoid arthritis. The longer the patient suffers from PTSD, the more likely it is that he or she will develop a complication.
Immediately after a traumatic event, people experience PTSD-like symptoms. Inability to stop thinking about the event, fear, anxiety and anger are all common reactions to a stressful event. Most people do not feel like talking after the event but this is a mistake. Getting support is often the best way to help alleviate these negative symptoms. Support can be as simple as talking to a friend or a healthcare professional. Support groups or faith-based communities can also be forms of support.
By getting this support and help, the subject is able to treat symptoms, preventing them from getting worse. Though getting support is not always effective, it is better then ignoring the symptoms or turning to unhealthy coping methods, like substance abuse.
Interventions and Treatment
Treatment for PTSD requires the mix of medications and psychotherapy. Physicians may prescribe antipsychotics, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. Some patients may need medications to help them sleep. In addition to medications, patients will need to undergo a course of therapy that will hopefully help them overcome their symptoms.
Treatment for PTSD is supposed to help patients regain a sense of control over their lives. Patients also begin to feel better about themselves and learn different ways to cope with any symptoms that return.
Without proper treatment, patients with PTSD will worsen and begin to experience permanent consequences of the disease.
Even so, most patients are reluctant to seek treatment because they wish to avoid talking about their trauma. In these cases, friends and loved ones may need to consult a medical professional.
As it’s a difficult topic to address, a professionally organized intervention may be useful.
The intervention allows the patient’s friends and relatives to share their experiences about how the patient’s PTSD has adversely affected their lives. The stories shared at an intervention help patients see the overall effect of post-traumatic stress disorder and motivate them to seek help. Furthermore, interventions help adversely affected family members and friends cope with their own PTSD-associated problems. A trained interventionist provides patients and all other intervention team members with different strategies that can help them overcome the more potent symptoms of PTSD.