Friday, December 16, 2011

Health Care and PTSD

PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a symptom that develops after someone has experienced a significant life situation creating a huge amount of stress, typically from an incident that is extremely traumatic such as exposure to death or some other major reason like injury or potential loss of life.

After a traumatic experience, it’s normal to feel frightened, sad, anxious, and disconnected, according to HelpGuide.org. Usually, with time, the upset fades and you start to enjoy life again. But sometimes the trauma is so overwhelming that you find that you can’t move on. You feel stuck with a constant sense of danger and painful memories that don’t fade.

According to the US National Library of Medicine (NLM), PTSD can occur at any age. It can follow a natural disaster such as a flood or fire, or events such as:

•Assault
•Domestic abuse
•Prison stay
•Rape
•Terrorism
•War

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.

According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Many people who go through traumatic events have difficulty adjusting and coping for a while. But with time and taking care of yourself, such traumatic reactions usually get better. In some cases, though, the symptoms can get worse or last for months or even years. Sometimes they may completely shake up your life. In a case such as this, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder. Getting treatment as soon as possible after post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms develop may prevent long-term post-traumatic stress disorder. Some factors may make you more likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic event, including:

--Being female.
--Experiencing intense or long-lasting trauma.
--Having experienced other trauma earlier in life.
--Having other mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression.
--Lacking a good support system of family and friends.
--Having first-degree relatives with mental health problems, including PTSD.
--Having first-degree relatives with depression.
--Having been abused or neglected as a child.

Women may be at increased risk of PTSD because they are more likely to experience the kinds of trauma that can trigger the condition. Post-traumatic stress disorder can disrupt your whole life: your job, your relationships and even your enjoyment of everyday activities, according to the Mayo Clinic, and also may place you at a higher risk of other mental health problems, including:

--Depression
--Drug abuse
--Alcohol abuse
--Eating disorders
--Suicidal thoughts and actions.

In addition, PTSD may increase your risk of certain medical illnesses, including:

--Cardiovascular disease
--Chronic pain
--Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid disease
--Musculoskeletal conditions.

The traumatic events that lead to post-traumatic stress disorder are usually so overwhelming and frightening that they would upset anyone, according to Help Guide. Following a traumatic event, almost everyone experiences at least some of the symptoms of PTSD. When your sense of safety and trust are shattered, it’s normal to feel crazy, disconnected, or numb. It’s very common to have bad dreams, feel fearful, and find it difficult to stop thinking about what happened. These are normal reactions to abnormal events. For most people, however, these symptoms are short-lived. They may last for several days or even weeks, but they gradually lift. But if you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the symptoms don’t decrease. You don’t feel a little better each day. In fact, you may start to feel worse.

After a traumatic experience, the mind and the body are in shock. But as you make sense of what happened and process your emotions, you come out of it. With post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, you remain in psychological shock. Your memory of what happened and your feelings about it are disconnected. In order to move on, it’s important to face and feel your memories and emotions. The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can arise suddenly, gradually, or come and go over time. Sometimes symptoms appear seemingly out of the blue. At other times, they are triggered by something that reminds you of the original traumatic event, such as a noise, an image, certain words, or a smell. While everyone experiences PTSD differently, there are three main types of symptoms:
--Re-experiencing the traumatic event.
--Avoiding reminders of the trauma.
--Increased anxiety and emotional arousal.

1.) Symptoms of PTSD: Re-experiencing the traumatic event.
--Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event.
--Flashbacks (acting or feeling like the event is happening again).
--Nightmares (either of the event or of other frightening things).
--Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma.
--Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (e.g. pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating).

2.) Symptoms of PTSD: Avoidance and numbing.
--Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma.
--Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma.
--Loss of interest in activities and life in general.
--Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb.
--Sense of a limited future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career).

3.) Symptoms of PTSD: Increased anxiety and emotional arousal.
--Difficulty falling or staying asleep.
--Irritability or outbursts of anger.
--Difficulty concentrating.
--Hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”).
--Feeling jumpy and easily startled.

There are no tests that can be done to diagnose PTSD. According to the NLM, 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 ASD, 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, according to the NLM. 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. 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. You can get more information about post-traumatic stress disorder from the American Psychiatric Association -- http://www.psych.org/

Another great site for PTSD support services is http://www.ptsdsupport.net/. Military Ministry through Campus Crusade for Christ (http://www.militaryministry.org/) has materials available for returning veterans, and they have partnered with the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) to help those military personnel dealing with stress and PTSD.

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 of hurting yourself or anybody else.
--You are unable to control your behavior.
--You have other very upsetting symptoms of PTSD.

PTSD is a serious condition and should be treated as soon as possible upon diagnosis. If you or a loved one are suffering symptoms, visit a primary care physician, specialist, counselor, or psychologist to establish treatment. There are ways to treat this emotional and mental situation. Don't put it off.

Until next time.

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