What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that affects people who have suffered or witnessed a traumatic event in their lives (for example, a war, kidnapping, accident, etc.). People that suffer from PTSD have frequent nightmares about the traumatic experience lived in the past.
It is necessary to differentiate this disorder from other problems caused by daily life triggers and difficulties, such as a divorce, economic problems, or family conflicts.
Most of the people that have suffered a trauma won’t develop PTSD. Besides, it is not the severity of the trauma suffered that triggers the disorder. It is more related to the sensitivity of the person affected and the resources to overcome the trauma.
It can also depend on genetic factors, personality, if the person has suffered previous traumas, and the personal situation the patient is living in the moment. It can develop at any age, although it is more common in young people, maybe because they have the possibility to get exposed to traumatic events. It is also more frequent in socially isolated individuals.
The causes of post-traumatic stress disorder are unknown and experts don’t know why some people that have suffered trauma will develop PTSD and others won’t. It is believed that genes and the family situation are important factors. It is possible that past traumas increase the risk of suffering a second trauma afterward.
In people without PTSD, the hormones and stress neurochemicals secreted by the nervous system after a stressful event will come back to normal levels after a certain period of time. However, people with PTSD will keep secreting these hormones.
The triggers of this condition can include:
- Having witnessed a war.
- Having suffered a kidnapping, or a rape.
- Being involved in a car accident.
- Having been in prison.
- Having lived a natural disaster.
In some cases, the symptoms can develop years after having suffered the traumatic event. The most common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are:
- Remembering the trauma through flashbacks.
- Having nightmares
- Having instant memories throughout the day
- Hallucinations with the idea that the same event is happening again.
- Extreme anxiety when seeing individuals, places, or anything that the person associates with the traumatic event.
- The person affected tent to avoid conversations, environments, or people related to the event.
- Difficulty breathing, and sweating when remembering the trauma.
- Memory loss, inability to remember certain details about the event.
- Feeling numb, distant, or paralyzed when facing any other emotional experience.
- Loss of interest in hobbies or leisure activities.
- Insomnia and difficulty sleeping.
- Attention problems.
To be considered PTSD, these symptoms should happen for at least one month and the daily life of the person should be affected.
There is some evidence that if the individuals that have suffered trauma receive psychotherapy or counseling after the event, they are less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
Therefore, it is recommendable to seek help from a psychotherapist if some difficult event has happened. The specialist can help the person to process the emotions correctly.
In order to diagnose PTSD, the provider should ask the person for how long he has had the symptoms. Generally, it is considered post-traumatic stress disorder if the symptoms last longer than a month.
The recommended treatment includes medication and psychotherapy. As with many mental health problems, the medication can help to reduce the symptoms and help the person to engage better in the therapy. The medication used for PTSD can include antidepressants or anxiolytics.
The therapy can include relaxation techniques, like mindfulness or breathing exercises. Depending on the case, it can combine Cognitive-Behavioural therapy (CBT) with Exposure Response therapy (ERP). ERP can be useful to expose the patient to the traumatic event to help him to overcome and process the feelings in a healthier way.