We all experience some type of traumatic experience or event at some point in our life. These events can bring feelings of anger and helplessness which activates the brain alarm system or “fight-flight-freeze” response.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is mainly triggered by a terrifying event either experiencing it or witnessing the event.
What is PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder)?
The brain and adrenal system send signals to the autonomic nervous system that regulate functions like heart rate, respiration, and digestion. This causes the heart rate to speed up, breathing quickens, and muscles tense.
These changes in hormones last for days or weeks even after the crisis is over Sometimes these symptoms stay persistent, disappearing for a period of time only to resurface again. These cause nightmares, flashbacks, sleeplessness, and other symptoms. If these last for a month or more, PTSD is diagnosed.
The symptoms may start within a month of the traumatic event but sometimes they may appear years after the event. Symptoms may vary from person to person or the time of occurrence. These symptoms are generally grouped into four types, these are:
1. Intrusive memories
- Memories or flashbacks or traumatic events
- Dreams or nightmares about the event
- Physical reaction or emotional distress to something that reminds you of an event
- Avoiding talks or topics about events or incidents
- Avoiding places, people, or activities reminding of the event
3. Negative changes
- Negative changes about yourself, people, or the world
- Hopelessness about future
- Memory problems, not remembering essential parts of the incident
- Relationship problems
- Feeling isolated
- Anhedonia or not enjoying activities you once enjoyed
- Difficulty feeling positive emotions
- Feeling numb emotionally
4. Changes in arousal symptoms or physical and emotional reactions
- Getting startled or frightened easily
- Feeling paranoid
- Being on guard for danger every time
- Driving too fast or drinking too much alcohol
- Sleeping problems
- Lack of focus and concentration
- Aggressive behavior, feeling irritation, angry outbursts
- Remorse, guilt, feeling ashamed
The severity of symptoms depends on the situation. The timing and occurrence of symptoms like when you interact with things, people, places, or activities that triggers the memories or flashbacks of a traumatic experience or when you are under stress in general.
For example when you come in contact with deep water bodies that trigger your own drowning experience and trauma.
It is better and a safe option to consult a doctor if the symptoms are severe and affecting your daily life. Speaking to a close one about your condition may help in encouraging you to get help.
- PTSD develops when you relieve the traumatic experience you once went through again which is triggered by memories and flashbacks of the event.
- Each person reacts to their traumatic incident differently. Although it is not clear why this happens.
- A person may be more likely to develop PTSD if they already have any mental health problems, a family history of a mental health problem, or a history of abuse of alcohol and drug.
- PTSD is diagnosed if the symptoms continue to be persistent after 1 month of the traumatic event. The doctor will perform an evaluation of the complete medical history and physical exam.
- If no physical illness is found, a psychiatrist is preferred.
PTSD treatment helps in reducing the symptoms and their severity to better manage daily life activities, and help with the event that was the cause of PTSD. Treatment of PTSD includes psychotherapy, medication, or both.
Certain medications are prescribed by doctors to treat PTSD like antidepressants, and medication to control anxiety.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like citalopram (Celexa), fluvoxamine (Luvox), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft).
- Tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline (Elavil) and isocarboxazid (Doxepin)
- Mood stabilizers such as Divalproex (Depakote) and lamotrigine (Lamictal)
- Atypical antipsychotics like aripiprazole (Abilify) and quetiapine (Seroquel)
- Blood pressure medications to control symptoms like prazosin for nightmares, clonidine for sleep, and propranolol to reduce the formation of traumatic memories.
- Psychotherapy helps to learn skills and techniques to manage PTSD symptoms and ways to cope.
- It also aims to help the person and family learn about PTSD. Psychotherapy includes:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: It involves learning about the patterns that trigger troublesome emotions and behavior
Prolonged exposure therapy
It involves exposure to activities, places, things, or persons that trigger memories of traumatic events on purpose to help confront fear and learn to become more comfortable with the traumatic incident.
- Psychodynamic therapy: It helps in focusing on personal values and examining them.
- Family therapy: Diagnosed person’s family may be affected too so family therapy is helpful.
- Group therapy: Sharing thoughts with people going through similar situations also may be helpful.
Doing regular exercise, having a healthy and nutritious diet, healthy sleep cycle may also help to cope with symptoms.
PTSD Medication Do's & Don't
Paroxetine and sertraline are both a type of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
These medicines will only be used if:
- A person chooses not to have trauma-focused psychological treatment
- Psychological treatment of a person would not be effective because there's an ongoing threat of further trauma (such as domestic violence)
- If a person has gained little or no benefit from a course of trauma-focused psychological treatment
- If a person has an underlying medical condition, such as severe depression, that significantly affects the ability to benefit from psychological treatment
- Early precaution with people who have had a traumatic incident or who are showing symptoms of PTSD will in reducing the symptoms and their severity.
- Family members and close ones should look out for possible symptoms and signs after one has had a traumatic experience.
- It is common to struggle with fear, anxiety, and stress after a traumatic experience.
- PTSD also affects daily life and can also be harsh on your physical health.
- It is better not to take this mental health problem lightly and seek help.
- If you have mild PTSD symptoms or you've had PTSD symptoms for less than 4 weeks, an approach called active monitoring may be recommended by a healthcare specialist.