What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is part of a group of psychiatric conditions that involve excessive anxiety. This group is otherwise known as anxiety disorders. Although anxiety can be helpful in some situations such as during examinations wherein it pushes one to be better, pathologic anxiety that is excessive can often time be be disabling. This can prevent the person from fully functioning even in day-to-day activities and may disrupt occupational performance or from establishing new relationships.

In post-traumatic stress disorder, the aftermath of a traumatic experience interferes with the normal functioning of the person. This is because the trauma, fear and anxiety that are experienced in the tragic event is reawakened and relived for months or even years after the event. This forces the person to be avoidant of activities, situations or even people that he associates with the trauma as it triggers the memory of the tragic event and the traumatic emotions associated with it.

Post-traumatic stress disorder afflicts all people worldwide regardless of social class and race. In the United States of America, 8% of men and 20% of women who experience a traumatic event develop this disorder. Childhood sexual abuse is also a strong predictor of lifetime likelihood for developing this disorder.

Causes of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Although the exact cause of post-traumatic stress disorder has yet to be identified, it is postulated that a combination of genetic and environmental factors in addition to the major traumatic event contributes to the development of the disorder.

  • Genetics – there is an increased risk of developing the disorder if a first degree relative is affected
  • Neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain
  • The amount and severity of the trauma experienced is indicative of developing the disorder. Some examples of traumatic events are the following:
    • Natural calamities such as typhoon, hurricane, earthquake and tornado
    • Vehicular accidents
    • War
    • Domestic violence
    • Rape
  • Personality factors such as having a low self esteem and poor coping skills
  • Other psychiatric disorders such as depression and other anxiety disorders can predispose a person to develop this disorder

Signs and Symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Onset of the signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder may vary from months up to years. These can generally be divided into the following categories:

Feeling hopeless and negative feelings about one's self are some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder

Feeling hopeless and negative feelings about one’s self are some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Intrusive memories such as:
    • Flashbacks of the tragic event
    • Recurrent memories and dreams that cause distress and anxiety
    • Memory of the event triggers severe emotional distress and physical reactions
  • Avoidance such as:
    • Avoiding places, activities or people that may trigger a memory of the event
    • Being pre-occupied of blocking thoughts of the traumatic event and avoidance of talking about it
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood such as:
    • Emotionally numb or the difficulty of experiencing and showing positive emotions
    • Lack of interest in any activity
    • Negative feelings about oneself
    • Feeling hopeless
    • Difficulty establishing new relationships and maintaining old ones
  • Changes in emotional reactions such as:
    • Irritability
    • Difficulty in concentration
    • Difficulty in sleeping
    • Easily startled or frightened
    • Self destructive behavior such as substance abuse

Treatment for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder involves a combination of psychotherapy and pharmacologic therapy. Types of psychotherapy that may be recommended are the following:

  • Cognitive therapy
  • Exposure therapy
  • Eye movement desensitization therapy

For pharmacologic therapy, the doctor may prescribe medications such as anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that results from the exposure to traumatic events such as a major accident or natural calamity.

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