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Posttraumatic Stress Disorder -Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - (PTSD)

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Information About Treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common reaction to very stressful or traumatic events, especially in situations whereby the person felt helpless, powerless, and/or believed that he/she might die. Many different kinds of events can lead to PTSD, including being physically injured; having a close brush with death or serious injury; being the victim of a crime; being physically or sexually abused; witnessing someone's death; or surviving a disaster, such as a fire, bombing, or earthquake.

Type I and Type II Trauma: A Vital Difference

1. Type I, or acute trauma: short-term, unexpected traumatic events.
2. Type II, or chronic trauma: a series of traumatic events, or exposure to a prolonged traumatic event.

Posttraumatic stress disorder is characterized by 3 main types of problems or symptoms:

1. Reexperiencing the trauma: can include recurrent and intrusive memories, nightmares, and flashbacks.

2. Hyperarousal Symptoms: such as sleep difficulties, irritability, muscle tension, hypervigilance, anger outbursts, difficulty concentrating.

3. Avoidance: may include not wanting to talk about the traumatic event and keeping away from people, thoughts, feelings, things, or places that trigger memories of the trauma. Traumatized individuals also may dissociate or "split off" from their sense of self, resulting in lack of integration of thoughts, feelings and experiences into the stream of consciousness.

A number of features are commonly associated with posttraumatic stress disorder, including intense feelings of guilt, shame, disgust and/or despair; excessive anger and hostility; marital/couple distress; impaired interpersonal relationships; poor work performance; impaired affect regulation; impulsive and self-destructive behavior; and somatic complaints, such as headaches, joint pain, colitis and respiratory problems.

Beyond the core symptoms of PTSD, there seem to be enduring changes in people's personalities after chronic (Type II) trauma. These include lasting changes in the person's sense of identity and interpersonal relationships, and the sense of life's meaning.

Many people begin to have symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder shortly after the traumatic event, while other people do not start to have symptoms until months, or even many years, after the event. Many people's symptoms diminish within 3 months; for others, the symptoms can last for years.

Update: A recent research study (Br J Psychiatry 2005) showed that people whose worst event was a life event such as marital discord, chronic illness, or unemployment had more PTSD symptoms, on average, than people whose worst life event was typically traumatic, such as an accident or disaster. The findings suggest that common stressors such as chronic illness and serious problems with work and relationships that pose a threat to life in a more symbolic manner can also lead to PTSD.