Monday, November 7, 2011

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder “PTSD”, Growing Epidemic among Military Veterans

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has become a growing epidemic among military veterans.  PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder which can occur after someone has seen or experienced a traumatic event that involved the threat of injury or death.

Studies have shown causes, incidence, and risk factors of PTSD can occur following such events as:
  Domestic abuse
  Prison stay

For example, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 may have caused PTSD in some people who were involved, in people who saw the disaster, and in people who lost relatives and friends.

Veterans returning home from a war often have PTSD.

The cause of PTSD is unknown.  Psychological, genetic, physical, and social factors are involved.  PTSD changes the body's response to stress.  It affects the stress hormones and chemicals that carry information between the nerves (neurotransmitters).

It is not known why traumatic events cause PTSD in some people but not others.  Having a history of trauma may increase your risk for getting PTSD after a recent traumatic event.

Symptoms of PTSD fall into three main categories:

1.  Reliving the events which disturbs day to day activity
             Flashbacks episodes, where the event seems to be happening and again
     Repeated upsetting memories of the event
     Repeated upsetting of the event
     Strong, uncomfortable reactions to situations that reminds you of
     the event

2. Avoidance
    Emotional “numbing,” or feeling as though you don’t care about anything
    Feeling detached
   Being unable to remember important aspects of the trauma
   Having a lack of interest in normal activities
   Showing less of your moods
   Avoiding places, people, or thoughts that remind you of the event
   Feeling like you have no future

3. Arousal 
   Difficulty concentrating
   Startling easily
   Having an exaggerated response to the things that startle you
   Feeling more aware (hypervigilance)
   Feeling irritable or having outburst of anger
   Having trouble falling or staying asleep

You might feel guilt about the event including "survivor guilt".  You might also have some of the following symptoms, which are typical of anxiety, stress, and tension:
   Agitation or excitability
   Feeling your heart beat in your chest

Signs and tests
There are no tests that can be done to diagnose PTSD.  The diagnosis is made based on certain symptoms. Your doctor may ask for how long you have had symptoms.  This will help your doctor know if you have PTSD or a similar condition called Acute Stress Disorder (ASD).

    In PTSD, symptoms are present for at least 30 days.
    In PTSD, symptoms will be present for a shorter period of time.

Your doctor may also do mental health exams, physical exams, and blood tests to rule out other illnesses that are similar to PTSD.

Treatment can help prevent PTSD from developing after a trauma.  A good social support system may also help protect against PTSD.

If PTSD does occur, a form of treatment called "desensitization" may be used.

This treatment helps reduce symptoms by encouraging you to remember the traumatic event and express your feelings about it. Over time, memories of the event should become less frightening. Support groups, where people who have had similar experiences share their feelings, may also be helpful.

People with PTSD may also have problems with:
Alcohol or other substance abuse
Related medical conditions

In most cases, these problems should be treated before trying desensitization therapy. Medicines that act on the nervous system can help reduce anxiety and other symptoms of PTSD.  Antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can be effective in treating PTSD.  Other anti-anxiety and sleep medicines may also be helpful.

Support Groups
You can get more information about post-traumatic stress disorder from the American Psychiatric Association --  Military Veterans can seek help at your local VA hospital.   

Expectations (prognosis)
You can increase the chance of a good outcome with:    
Early diagnosis
Prompt treatment
Strong social support

Alcohol abuse or other drugs
Panic attacks

Calling your health care provider
Although traumatic events can cause distress, not all feelings of distress are symptoms of PTSD.  Talk about your feelings with friends and relatives.  If your symptoms do not improve soon or are making you very upset, contact your doctor.

Seek help right away if:
You feel overwhelmed
You are thinking hurting yourself or anybody else
You are unable to control your behavior
You have other very upsetting symptoms of PTSD
You can also contact your doctor for help with problems such as: repeated upsetting thoughts, irritability, and problems with sleep.

Food for thought:
If you think you have any of the above mentioned signs of PTSD, seek medical attention right away.  Don’t ignore the signs because they could become life threatening.

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