(Health Secrets) Do you know someone who may be walking around with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and not even know it? This would be someone who has experienced an emotionally or physically traumatic event and is unable to effectively put behind them. Although people who have been through a traumatic event may think they have conquered their fears, fear may sneak back at unexpected moments.
Symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder include:
- Feelings of anxiety or panic
- Irrational beliefs
- Excessive guilt
- Loss of emotional reserves
- Behaviors that can adversely affect daily life
Life for these people can become joyless and hyper-vigilant. The biggest step to healing is to stop pretending this issues does not exist, and get appropriate treatment.
It is natural to feel afraid when we are in danger. Fear triggers many spit-second changes in the body to prepare it to defend against danger or to avoid it. The fight or flight response is a healthy reaction meant to protect us from harm. But in those with post traumatic stress disorder, this reaction is changed or damaged, and feelings of stress or fright remain even when there is no longer any danger.
Anyone can get post traumatic stress disorder at any age, following exposure to a traumatic event in which both the following have been present:
*The person has experienced, witnessed, or been confronted with an event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others.
*The person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness or horror. In children this may be expressed instead by disorganized and agitated behavior.
Post traumatic stress disorder can cause many symptoms. These can be grouped into three categories:
1. Re-experiencing symptoms
- Flashbacks— reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
- Bad dreams
- Frightening Thoughts
Words, objects or situations that are reminders of the event can trigger re-experiencing. Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine.
2. Avoidance symptoms
- Staying away from places, events or objects that are reminders of the experience
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Feeling strong guilt, depression or worry
- Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
- Having trouble remembering the dangerous event
Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.
3. Hyper-arousal symptoms
- Being easily startled
- Feeling tense or “on edge”
- Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts
Hyper-arousal symptoms are usually constant instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating or concentrating. It’s natural to have some of these symptoms after a dangerous event. Sometimes people have very serious symptoms that go away after a few weeks. When the symptoms last more than a few weeks and become an ongoing problem, they person may have post traumatic stress disorder. Some people with the disorder don’t show any symptoms for weeks or months after the event, and then they pop up.
Children and teens can have extreme reactions to trauma, but their symptoms may not be the same as those of adults. In very young children, these symptoms can include:
- Bedwetting when they had already learned to use the toilet
- Forgetting how to or being unable to talk
- Acting out the scary event during playtime
- Being unusually clingy with a parent or other adult
Older children and teens usually show symptoms more like those seen in adults. They may also develop disrespectful or disruptive behaviors. Older children and teens may feel guilty for not preventing injury or deaths. They may also have thoughts of revenge.
There are resilience factors that can help reduce the risk of post traumatic stress disorder developing after a traumatic event, such as:
- The ability to seek out support from other people
- Finding a support group
- Feeling good about one’s own actions in the face of danger
- Having a coping strategy, or a way of getting through the bad event and learning from it
- Being able to act and respond effectively despite feeling fear
Psychotherapy therapy for post traumatic stress disorder usually lasts 6 to 12 weeks, but can take more time. Support from family and friends can be an important part of this therapy.
Many types of psychotherapy can be helpful. Some target the symptoms directly, while other focus on social, family or job-related problems that stem from the disorder. Cognitive Behavior Therapyis often quite helpful and may include
*Exposure Therapy — helps people face and control their fear. It exposes people to the trauma they experienced but in a safe way. It uses mental imagery, writing or visits to the place where the event happened. The therapist uses these tools to help people cope with their feelings.
*Cognitive restructuring — helps people make sense of their bad memories. Sometimes people remember the event differently than it happened. They may feel guilt or shame about what is not their fault. The therapist helps with looking at what happened in a realistic way.
*Stress inoculation training — tries to reduce symptoms by teaching a person how to reduce anxiety. Like cognitive restructuring, this treatment helps people look at their memories in a healthy way.
Other types of treatment that may be helpful include:
- Teaching about trauma and its effects
- Using relaxation and anger control skills
- Providing tips for better sleep, diet and exercise habits
- Helping people indentify and deal with guilt, shame and other feelings about the event
- Focusing on changing how people react to their symptoms. For example, helping people visit places and people that are reminders of the trauma
If you know someone who may have post traumatic stress disorder, it affects you too. The first and most important thing you can do to help a friend or relative is to help him/her get the right treatment. You may need to make an appointment for a friend or relative and go with him/her to meet the therapist. Encourage the person to stay in treatment or seek different treatment if symptoms don’t get better after 6 to 8 weeks.
To help a friend or relative:
- Offer emotional support, understanding, patience, and encouragement
- Learn about post traumatic stress disorder so you can understand what your friend or relative is experiencing
- Talk to your friend or relative, and listen carefully
- Listen to feelings expressed and be understanding of situations that may trigger symptoms
- Invite the person out for positive distractions
- Remind the person that with time and treatment, he or she can feel better
If you are unsure where to go for help, ask your family doctor. You can also check under mental health, health, social services or hotlines in your phone book or online for your city. An emergency room doctor can provide temporary help and tell you where and how to get further help.
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