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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Aug 17, 2007
A form of anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is sometimes formed after someone has experienced a very terrifying ordeal, usually where serious physical damage could or did occur to the person involved.

Events that can trigger PTSD to occur include violent attacks on people e.g. muggings, rape, human caused or natural disasters, and military combat. Once someone has PTSD they often find it to be hugely disabling.

Large quantities of research has led to a much better understanding of how the brain and body are affected by PTSD, various treatments are now available.

In terms of PTSD symptoms, those affected tend to re-experience the worst parts of their horrible past in the form of memory flashbacks and nightmares/ frightening thoughts. Certain objects or events, e.g. anniversaries, that in some way remind the sufferer of these dark thoughts can spark these replays. Another symptom of PTSD is a numbness to emotions, depression, poor sleeping ability, anxiety, outbursts of anger and general irritability. Powerful emotions of guilt are also common. The majority of those affected by PTSD try to stay clear of anything that may remind them of their past ordeals. If symptoms like these endure for over one month PTSD can then be diagnosed.

PTSD can affect any age, from children right through to the elderly. Symptoms are likely to show themselves within three months of a particular traumatic event.

Around 3.6% of U.S. adults between the ages of 18-54, 5.2 million people in all, suffer from PTSD in any given year. War zones have been visited by roughly 30% of men and women with PTSD. The Vietnam War saw one million veterans develop this anxiety disorder. Soldiers that fought in the Gulf War also had a high number, estimated at up to 8%.

Once apparent this illnesses duration and severity are variable, lasting from just six months to many years.

Through research effective treatments such as those involving cognitive-behavioral therapy, exposure therapy and group therapy have been realized. This treatment works by getting the person affected to repetitively re-live their nightmares, in a controlled environment, with the aim of them becoming more able to deal with and leave behind the damaging memories. Medications have been found to lessen PTSD symptoms of anxiety and depression whilst furthering sleep. Trauma-specific treatments are currently being worked on.

Other problems can sometime become associated with PTSD, e.g. alcoholism, substance abuse, co-occurring depression and other types of anxiety disorder.

Gastrointestinal complaints, dizziness, problems with the patient's immune system, headaches or chest pains, amongst numerous other possible bodily ailments are not unusual.

What is vital is that quick, effective diagnosis and treatment of these conditions occurs, so as to provide the best chance of treatment success.

Upon diagnosis the sufferer is usually referred to a mental health professional that has specialized for years in dealing with patients displaying the particular disorder in question.

Individuals more open to developing PTSD are those that have suffered abuse when a child or people who've undergone highly traumatic experiences. More and more factors that can lead to PTSD are being found by researchers every day.

What was once believed to be a sign of recovery, emotional numbness, is now considered more likely to be a factor promoting PTSD development.

New research has identified the amygdala, a small yet highly complex structure within our brains controlling our bodies fear response, as being abnormally activated in cases of PTSD.

The memory section of our brains, the hippocampus, may be functioning abnormally in association with PTSD, providing the various re-living of past nightmarish events.

PTSD often manifests its self through unusual levels of particular hormones. Cortisol has often been seen in lower than usual quantities whilst norepinephrine and epinephrine has been found at abnormally high levels.

Natural pain-relieving opiates released when people feel they are in danger may be what contribute to emotional distancing. These chemicals are released for longer than normal durations, often lasting after the terrifying event has taken place.

Research into improved understandings of how neurotransmitter systems operate with memories of high significance may prove fruitful with reducing the early development of PTSD via psychological interventions or medications.
About the Author
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