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Article Index Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

By Elaine Pomfrey

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a disorder which causes disabling anxiety after a dangerous event, such as being in combat or a traffic accident. Individuals with PTSD cannot stop thinking about the event. They may relive the experience over and over in flashbacks or nightmares. The high level of anxiety of PTSD can lead to associated problems like panic attacks, depression, alcoholism and substance abuse.

PTSD affects 7.7 million adults, but it can affect children and the elderly. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. Sometimes someone whose loved one lived through a dangerous event will get PTSD.

How is PTSD diagnosed? Physicians group the symptoms into three categories:

  • Re-experiencing symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, terrifying thoughts.
  • Avoidance symptoms such as steering clear of anything that reminds the person of the experience, withdrawing emotionally or feeling strong guilt or anxiety
  • Hyperarousal symptoms such as always feeling tense or being easily startled.

A person needs to demonstrate these symptoms for one month or more to be diagnosed with PTSD. If symptoms disappear within a month after a stressful event, it is labeled Acute Stress Disorder, or ASD.

PTSD often exists simultaneously with other physical symptoms of high stress such as digestive disorders, headaches, chest pain and dizziness. Be sure to tell your physician if you have experienced a traumatic event so she can diagnose and treat PTSD properly.

Psychotherapy and medication are two of the main treatments for PTSD. Antidepressants keep the symptoms in check, but do not treat the cause of PTSD. Talk therapy enables the PTSD sufferer to work through the event. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is deemed the most effective talk therapy for PTSD. A therapist may help the individual reframe the incident or may walk him through a process of systematic desensitization to lessen the impact of the event. Treatments last 3-6 months, or could take 1-2 years.

Relaxation techniques such as meditation reduce the stress experienced in PTSD and thus, provide relief to PTSD sufferers. A study of Vietnam War veterans suffering from PTSD demonstrated that after three months of doing the Transcendental Meditation technique, symptoms such as alcohol usage, high startle response, emotional numbness and anxiety decreased as compared to a control group who received only psychotherapy. Research indicates that meditation has a positive effect on problems that often arise in PTSD sufferers, such as hypertension, depression, and substance abuse.

Recovery from PTSD usually takes some time, but adding relaxation techniques such as meditation, may speed up the process.

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