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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition triggered by a distressing or terrifying event, in which the uncontrollable recollection of the event intrudes on your life and interferes with daily functioning. This can take many forms, from flashbacks and nightmares to changes in mood or behavior. It's often associated with combat experience, but can occur to anyone who has experienced trauma.
A note of caution: this article discusses situations or events that people with PTSD, as well as other trauma or stress disorders, may find triggering. It makes reference not just to the symptoms of PTSD, but specific types of traumatic events that often serve as causes for the condition. Survivors of trauma, please be advised that this material may prove upsetting.
Identifying PTSD symptoms and triggers for trauma is a complex task. Symptoms are categorized into four basic types:
These aspects of PTSD can appear in many different ways. Increased arousal, for instance, can manifest with sleep disorders, hypervigilance, reckless or self-destructive behavior, aggressiveness, or multiple traits in this realm. Negative mood changes can include social withdrawal, memory loss, detached or estranged feelings, persistent negative feelings, distorted blame towards oneself or others about the traumatic event, or many other instances of negativity or guilt.
We associate PTSD with warfare, and though many veterans experience trauma and its aftereffects, many other people live their lives with it:
The discrepancy between the amount of men and women who experience PTSD initially seems surprising, as about 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women have a traumatic event occur in their lives. Men are more likely to experience this as a physical assault, combat experience, disaster or accident, as well as a witness to one of these. Women are more likely to experience sexual assault or child sexual abuse.
Military veterans experience PTSD at a higher rate than civilians, with between 11 and 20 percent having PTSD during a given year among those who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. In addition, military sexual assault also plays a part in these PTSD statistics, as 23 percent of women who use VA health care reported a sexual assault in the military. 55 percent of women and 38 percent of men using VA health care reported experiencing sexual harassment while serving.
Recovery from PTSD a gradual and ongoing process. Its goal is to reduce the emotional and physical symptoms, to improve daily functioning, and to help the patient learn better coping skills with the event that triggered the disorder. Symptoms of PTSD rarely disappear completely, but with the following treatment options, patients can learn to cope more effectively, manage feelings, and reduce the intensity of the symptoms.
The most common types of medications that are used to treat PTSD are antidepressants that also help to manage anxiety, such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRI's (including Paxil, Celexa, Luvox, Prozac, and Zoloft). Tricyclic antidepressants such as Elavil and Doxepin may be used as well.
Some psychiatrists may choose to prescribe mood stabilizers to help stabilize symptoms.
Research has shown that some types of blood pressure medicines can control particular symptoms. For example, Prazosin may be used to eliminate nightmares, or Propranolol may be used to minimize the formation of traumatic memories.
In addition to medication, psychotherapy is often used as a way for the person to learn how to cope, and learn how to manage their symptoms. Therapy - a type of counseling - aims to teach the person, as well as their family about the disorder, and help them work through the fears associated with the traumatic event. A variety of approaches are used to treat people with PTSD, including:
It is critical to visit your doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms of PTSD. Treatment and help is available to you. Know that you are not alone. There are many people going through this disorder who are ready and willing to help. Be patient with yourself and your physician, because recovery is within reach.
Remember, before stopping or starting any medication or treatment plan, consult a medical or mental health professional. Do not start or stop medication without the supervision of a medical professional.