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Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and sever anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Many people who go through traumatic events have difficulty adjusting and coping for a while. But with time and taking care of yourself, such traumatic reactions usually get better. In some cases, though, the symptoms can get worse or last months or even years. Sometimes they may completely shake up your life. In a case such as this, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder.

Signs and Symptoms

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms typically start within three months of a traumatic event. In a small number of cases, though, PTSD symptoms may not appear until years after the event.

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms are generally grouped into three types: intrusive memories, avoidance and numbing, and increased anxiety or emotional arousal (hyper arousal).

Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:

  • Flashbacks or reliving the traumatic event for minutes or even days at a time
  • Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event

Symptoms of avoidance and emotional numbing may include:

  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Avoiding activities you once enjoyed
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems
  • Trouble concentrating Difficulty maintaining close relationships

Symptoms of anxiety and increased emotional arousal may include:

  • Irritability or anger
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Hearing or seeing things that aren’t there

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms can come and go. You may have more post-traumatic disorder symptoms when things are stressful in general, or when you run into reminders of what you went through. You may hear a care backfire and relive combat experiences, for instance. Or you may see a report on the news about rape and feel overcome by memories of your own assault.

Causes

You can develop post-traumatic stress disorder when you go through, see or learn about an event that causes intense fear, helplessness or horror.

Doctors aren't sure why some people get post-traumatic stress disorder. As with most mental health problems, PTSD is probably caused by a complex mix of:

  • You inherited mental health risks, such as an increased risk of anxiety and depression
  • Your life experiences, including the amount and severity of trauma you’ve gone through since early childhood
  • The inherited aspects of your personality often called your temperament
  • The way your brain regulates the chemicals and hormones your body releases in response to stress

Risk Factors

People of all ages can have post-traumatic stress disorder. However, some factors may make you more likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic event, including:

  • Being female
  • Experiencing intense or long lasting trauma
  • Having experienced other trauma earlier in life
  • Having other mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression
  • Lacking a good support system of family and friends
  • Having first-degree relatives with mental health problems, including PTSD
  • Having first-degree relatives with depression
  • Having been abused or neglected as a child
  • Women may be at increased risk of PTSD because they are more likely to experience the kinds of trauma that can trigger the condition

    Kinds of Traumatic Events

    Post-traumatic stress disorder is especially common among those who have served in combat.  It’s sometimes called “shell shock”, “battle fatigue” or “combat stress”.

    The most common events leading to the development of PTSD include:

    • Combat exposure
    • Rape
    • Childhood neglect and physical abuse
    • Sexual molestation
    • Physical attack
    • Being threatened with a weapon

      But many other traumatic events also can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, including fire, natural disaster, mugging, robbery, assault, civil conflict, care accident, plane crash, torture, kidnapping, life-threatening medical diagnosis, terrorist attack and other extreme or life-threatening events.

      Having PTSD also puts you at higher risk for depression, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts and actions. Also PTSD may increase your risk of certain illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and chronic pain.

      (Adapted from the Mayo Clinic; www.mayoclinic.com)