Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

a disorder in which a person has difficulty recovering after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event.

What's the worst thing that has ever happened to you? Likely a half dozen terrifying moments popped into your head in a nanosecond. Experiencing a traumatic event imprints on your psyche in an ever-lasting way. While many people manage to cope and adjust after a trauma, some do not. Whether they witnessed or experienced it personally, the trauma lasts far longer than the few seconds it took to happen. If symptoms persist and disrupt your daily life, it's important to be evaluated for PTSD.

What causes PTSD?

It's unclear why some people walk away from horrifying experiences feeling victorious and others come away shattered, but PTSD is likely the result of past experiences, personality, genetics, and brain chemistry.

Past experiences, like childhood abuse, can increase the risk of PTSD following traumatic events. People with anxiety, depression, or substance abuse and those without a strong support system are also at a higher risk of PTSD.

Because everyone experiences trauma differently, PTSD can be caused from a range of traumatic experiences. The most common events leading to PTSD are:

  • combat exposure
  • sexual violence
  • physical assault
  • threats involving a weapon
  • childhood abuse
  • a major natural disaster
  • a serious accident

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Symptoms of PTSD are quite interesting in their presentation. Some symptoms may start fairly immediately after the event, but some may not surface for years. They can also vary in their intensity. Symptoms may be perfectly manageable for a while and then suddenly or gradually become consuming.

PTSD symptoms include intrusive memories (such as flashbacks, nightmares, or distress from triggers); avoidance of people, places, or activities related to the traumatic event; negative changes in thinking or mood (such as hopelessness, feelings of detachment, inability to enjoy activities, feeling numb, feeling guilt or ashamed); and changes in physical and emotional reactions (such as being easily frightened, being hypervigilant, engaging in high risk behavior, drinking too much, trouble sleeping, and angry outbursts).

The intensity and unpredictability of these symptoms can not only affect your ability to lead a normal life, but can also cause serious problems in social situations and relationships.

PTSD can be devastating to a person – to entire families – but it is treatable," said Kayleigh Soto, a therapist at bonmente.

"With the right combination of therapy and medications, you can get your life back."

How is PTSD treated?

Without treatment PTSD can lead to substance abuse, chronic pain, and sleep problems, as well as devastating emotional, social, and economic effects. People with PTSD can lose self esteem, develop anger management issues, and are at risk for severe depression. More than 60% of people who get treatment report improvement and 44% have complete remission from symptoms.

• Therapy

Therapy has proven to be a highly effective treatment for PTSD. There are a variety of therapy modalities, but cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy have shown to be the most successful in treating PTSD. With cognitive therapy, a patient gains a better understanding of the impact of the trauma on their life and acquires new skills for managing thoughts about it. In exposure therapy, a patient repeatedly talks about the event in order to decrease its effect.

Perhaps the most exciting therapy development is EMDR. EMDR uses movement or sound to distract the brain while the trauma is discussed and processed. In some studies, more than 84% of people who experienced a single trauma has a resolution of PTSD in only three sessions. A Kaiser study found 100% recovery for single-trauma victims. In that study, 77% of multiple-trauma victims recovered entirely from PTSD after six sessions. The promising results of these studies has earned EMDR therapy recognition from the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization, and the Department of Defense as an effective form of trauma treatment.

• Medications

Among the medications being used to treat PTSD symptoms are antidepressants: SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). These medications, such as Zoloft and Paxil, help to curb symptoms of PTSD. For nightmares and sleep disturbances related to PTSD, Prazosin may be prescribed. Though medications alone won't likely eliminate all PTSD symptoms, they can make them more manageable while going through therapy.