What is PTSD? Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that develops after a person experiences a terrifying or extremely upsetting event. Often, but not always, the event triggering PTSD is violent.
More than 7.7 million American adults have post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (2010). This disorder can also occur in children, particularly those who live through disasters or suffer abuse.
Causes of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder triggers include almost any frightening or traumatic event. People at risk of PTSD include:
- Rape victims
- Soldiers, particularly those who have served in combat
- Survivors of assault, disasters and serious accidents.
While most PTSD triggers are violent, this doesn’t always mean physical violence. People have developed post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing or learning of traumatic events.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (2001)found that 44 percent of U.S. adults surveyed immediately after the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001, exhibited at least one substantial symptom of stress. Participants who watched a lot of television following the attacks were more likely to experience significant stress. Emotional trauma, such as a divorce, can lead to PTSD as well.
Risk Factors for PTSD
Experiencing a traumatic event is the primary risk factor for PTSD. No one is completely sure, however, why some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder and others don’t.
Research has uncovered these facts about PTSD risk:
- Children and adolescents have a higher risk of PTSD than adults.
- The longer a traumatic event’s duration, the higher the risk that a person will develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Women are more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder than men.
Post-traumatic stress disorder causes persistent thinking about traumatic events, and a tendency to relive these events repeatedly. Some PTSD symptoms include:
- Anxiety when confronted with events or objects that trigger traumatic memories
- Flashbacks during which the trauma is repeatedly relived
PTSD victims may distance themselves from people they love, have trouble concentrating or develop sleep problems. In some cases, post-traumatic stress disorder can cause aggression, irritability and even violence.
Effects of PTSD
Exposure to trauma and PTSD can have some long-reaching emotional, physical and social consequences including:
- A smaller hippocampus (brain region involved in memory) than the general population
- Difficulty holding a job
- Higher risk of alcohol and/or drug abuse
- Increased risk of other medical problems
- Strained family and romantic relationships.
Doctors typically recommend a multi-pronged treatment for PTSD. Psychological counseling can help individuals identify causes and triggers of post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as ways to control or minimize symptoms. Both individual and group counseling are common treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder.
SSRI antidepressants (such as ZoloftÂ©) are often used to treat PTSD, as well as other medications to relieve physical symptoms. Mood stabilizers and antipsychotic medications may be prescribed to help relieve certain extreme symptoms of PTSD.
Dryden-Edwards, R. (2010). Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Retrieved June 23, 2010, from: http://www.medicinenet.com/posttraumatic_stress_disorder/article.htm.
National Institute of Mental Health. (2010). The numbers count: Mental disorders in America. Retrieved June 25, 2010, from: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml â€” PTSD.
Shuster, M., Stein, B., Jaycox, L., Collins, R., Marshall, G., Elliott, M.,