Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Trauma is an emotional wound that is experienced by any person who faces a terrible and distressing event like an accident, disaster, loss of a loved one, sexual abuse, or any other horrific situation. As a response, the person shows fear, anger, shock and guilt which are considered completely normal.  However, if the person feels depressed and anxious for more than three months after facing any frightful occurrence, he/she might be having Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD).

This anxiety disorder is characterized by presence of extreme fear, thoughts and flashbacks of a traumatic incident in the person. These feelings may worsen, and may even last for years if left untreated.

Some of the common traumatic events are:

  • Rape and sexual assault
  • Childhood molestation and abuse
  • Robbery and being attacked
  • Death of a beloved one
  • Terrible accident and injury
  • Being kidnapped
  • Catastrophic natural disasters
  • Witnessing violent actions like bomb explosions, gunfire or war

Post traumatic stress disorder

How common is PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can happen to anyone during his/her childhood, adolescence or adulthood. Studies show that at least 10% women show PTSD symptoms at some point during their lives. Comparatively, only 4% men develop PTSD at least once in their lifetime. This hints that women are more likely to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.  It is also suggested that this disorder is genetic. Approximately 8 million American adults experience PTSD at some point in their lives. This disorder is seen more in rescue workers, military personnel, rape and assault victims and disaster victims. Also, people who had previously suffered from childhood abuse and assaults are more vulnerable to PTSD after any other traumatic event.

Causes of PTSD

The major cause of PTSD is occurrence of a dreadful, frightening and distressing event in a person’s life. As a response to any kind of above mentioned traumas, the person’s Adrenaline hormones increases. However, people with PTSD tend to have constant adrenaline even when the trauma has faded out. The combined effect of a traumatic event and a hormonal imbalance may cause PTSD in a person. Trauma can also affect the brain chemicals like Serotonin which is responsible to balance mood of the person. People having PTSD generally have low levels of serotonin.

Studies also show that heredity may be one of the causing factors of the disorder. PTSD has been more common in people having family history of anxiety and depression than those who didn't have. Moreover, if the person already have related personality traits like nervousness and high temper, these get magnified after the trauma, and can lead in development of the disorder.

Symptoms of PTSD

Various symptoms to recognize PTSD in a person are given below.

Symptoms in children and teens

  • Recurrent troubling memories and flashbacks of a traumatic event
  • Having dreadful nightmares more than usual
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fearful about dying at a young age
  • Lack of interest in regular activities of school, studies and playing
  • Anger and restlessness
  • Avoidance from anything associated with the traumatic event
  • Showing the same intense fear and terror whenever the child/teen remembers the event
  • Trouble in concentration
  • Enactment of being younger than the actual age
  • Physical Symptoms like muscles tension, nausea, difficulty in breathing, sweating, abdominal uneasiness, diarrhea and other signs of panicking (particularly when reminded of the traumatic event)

Symptoms in Adults

  • Frequent and disturbing thoughts and memories of the traumatic event
  • Going back and reliving the same event over and again (flashbacks)
  • Frightening nightmares associated with the same traumatic event
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Avoiding to talk, remember or engage in any thing associated with the traumatic event
  • Feeling of guilt and shame ( for irrelevant reasons in majority causes)
  • Thoughts about suicide or harming oneself
  • Irritability and anger
  • Increased alertness
  • Getting startled easily
  • Physical Symptoms like muscles tension, nausea, difficulty in breathing, sweating, abdominal uneasiness, diarrhea and other signs of panicking (particularly when reminded of the traumatic event

When to visit doctor?

You should visit a doctor if:

  • You’ve been experiencing the above symptoms more over a time period of three months constantly
  • You feel completely depressed without any change/improvement even when the incident has faded out
  • You have recurrent thoughts about suicide or harming yourself
  • You’re having serious difficulty in doing everyday tasks

How is it treated?

Combinations of medicines and different types of psychotherapies have been seen as the most effective treatment for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For children, the following medicines and therapies are taken along with consultation with family or guardians.

Medicines

Generally, anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medicines are seen as the most effective medicines for this disorder.  Anti-depressant medication helps to balance serotonin levels of brain. These brain chemicals determine the mood and feelings of a person. The anti-anxiety medicines help in controlling the fear, anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts about the traumatic event. The medications should be strictly taken into regular assessment by the doctor to decide how long he/she should be taking them.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Along with the medicines, a series of therapy are effective ways to help fight the disorder. CBT is a therapy focused on changing the thinking pattern of a person. Generally, you’d have a set of images and pictures attached about the trauma in your mind. CBT is aimed at replacing these negative images about the event with positive ones. The therapist teaches skills to be back to a normal life.

Exposure therapy

Another therapy that goes alongside CBT is exposure therapy. The therapy is focused on exposing an identical traumatic event to you and let you confront the situation once again. The therapist studies your response, and develops ways on how you can deal with such situation. Basically, the therapy is about understanding the actual fear and thought that have triggered the disorder. As you start talking about the traumatic event and related memories more and more with the therapist, you’ll be able to get them out of your mind gradually.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

This is considered as an effective therapy in unfreezing the part of the visualized memory that has caused PTSD. During the therapy, the therapist would guide your eyes movement with hand taps or directions. Along with this, you’d also be guided to recall the memories and thoughts about the traumatic event. Basically, the main aim of the therapy is to distract you with the hand movements while you talk about the traumatic event.

Support Groups

Joining support groups of people having PTSD and experience of going through traumas can also be effective during the treatment process. You meet people having similar stories, hear them and learn how they have been coping with their problems. You start sharing your own memories and emotions related with the trauma, and sense relief.