Post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder caused by exposure to trauma. Trauma is a subjective term; what one person considers traumatic, another may not. In general, PTSD-related trauma must be severe enough to make you feel that you or someone else is at risk of death or severe injury.
Symptoms of PTSD include:
- Avoidance and numbness
To complicate matters, symptoms of PTSD are similar to other conditions, including depression and other anxiety disorders. In addition, PTSD often occurs along with other conditions, such as substance abuse. Distinguishing between PTSD and other conditions is an important part of receiving an accurate PTSD diagnosis and getting the care and treatment that you need.
Acute Stress Disorder
Acute stress disorder (ASD) is an anxiety disorder that happens in the first few weeks following a traumatic experience. Many ASD symptoms overlap with those of PTSD, and when these symptoms persist longer than one month, you will probably be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
ASD affects between 6 percent and 33 percent of trauma survivors, according to the National Center for PTSD (2007). And, survivors of violence are somewhat more likely to develop PTSD while survivors of accidents or disasters are somewhat less likely to develop the disorder. Some facts about ASD and its relationship to PTSD include:
- If you have ASD, you are at high risk for developing PTSD.
- If you’ve had PTSD in the past, you’re at increased risk for developing ASD if you experience another trauma.
- Past exposure to other traumatic events puts you at increased risk for both ASD and PTSD.
Fortunately, survivors of trauma who are treated with cognitive behavioral therapy soon after traumatic experiences reduce their risk of developing PTSD symptoms in the future.
Anniversary Reactions and PTSD
The anniversary of a trauma can trigger symptoms of PTSD in many survivors. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and can appear as physical or emotional distress. Some examples of anniversary reactions include:
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Feeling unsafe
- Grief, sadness and depression
- Headaches or stomachaches.
Usually anniversary reactions go away by themselves in a week or two after the anniversary of the traumatic event. Sometimes planning a meaningful activity for this anniversary can help you feel better. You might donate to a charity or volunteer, give blood or spend time with loved ones. If anniversary reactions do not go away on their own, a mental health professional can help you feel better again.
Depression and PTSD
A common problem after traumatic experiences is depression; many people with PTSD also suffer from depression. Symptoms of depression have some overlap with PTSD symptoms and may include:
- Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
- Not wanting to be around other people
- Trouble focusing.
Antidepressant medicines and cognitive behavioral therapy can be effective treatments for both PTSD and depression.
Other PTSD Related Conditions
A range of other problems and conditions can occur after trauma with PTSD, including:
- Chronic pain
- Criminal behavior
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal behavior.
Long, P., M.D. (2009). Posttraumatic stress disorder. Retrieved July 8, 2010, from: http://www.mentalhealth.com/dis/p20-an06.html.
United States Department of Veterans Affairs. (2010). Related problems.Retrieved July 8, 2010, from: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/fslist-gen-relatedproblems.asp.