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  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

What is Trauma? What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Many people affected by a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened, develop psychological trauma. This is a form of anxiety disorder and the symptoms can be intense and enduring. One presentation of trauma is post-traumatic stress disorder, often referred to as PTSD.

Traumatic events that can lead to PTSD include violent personal assaults such as rape or mugging, natural or human disasters, accidents, serious illnesses or civil conflict. Increasingly, through research, effective treatments are being developed to help people with PTSD and other trauma related disorders.

What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?

Many people with PTSD repeatedly re-experience the ordeal in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, or frightening thoughts, especially when they are exposed to events or objects, which remind them of the trauma. Anniversaries of the event can also trigger symptoms. People with PTSD can also experience emotional numbness and sleep disturbance, depression, and other forms of anxiety, irritability, intense anger or guilt. People with PTSD try to avoid any reminders or thoughts of the ordeal, sometimes without being aware that they are doing so. PTSD is diagnosed when symptoms last more than one month after they commenced.

When Does PTSD First Occur?

Many people who are exposed to a traumatic event will experience a short period of distress. Most will recover with normal support but approximately one third are at risk of developing PTSD.

PTSD can develop at any age, including childhood. Symptoms typically begin within three months of a traumatic event, although it is not uncommon for them to appear for the first time, years later. Once PTSD occurs, the severity and duration of the illness varies. Some people recover within six months, while others suffer much longer.

What Treatments Are Available for PTSD?

Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing therapy) and exposure therapy, in which the patient gradually re-lives the frightening experience under safe and controlled conditions to help him or her work through and overcome the trauma. Studies have also shown that medications help ease associated symptoms of depression and anxiety and help overcome problems with sleep. Through on-going research, people working in the field of trauma treatment and research, are continuing to attempt to find out which treatments work best for which type of trauma.

Do Other Illnesses Tend to Accompany PTSD?

Trauma (including PTSD) is often accompanied by depression, alcohol or other substance abuse, or another anxiety disorder. The likelihood of success with the treatment is increased when these other conditions are appropriately identified and treated as well. Headaches, general feelings of being unwell, gastro-intestinal complaints, gynecological problems, immune system problems, dizziness, chest pain, or discomfort in other parts of the body are common. Often doctors treat such symptoms and may not be aware that they stem from a traumatic experience. If a person is attending a family doctor and has experience of a traumatic event, it could be helpful to tell the doctor about their experience. This would assist the assessment, diagnosis and treatment if the patient and the doctor could discuss the significance of the experience and its relationship to the other symptoms. Where a trauma (including PTSD) is diagnosed or suspected, onward referral for further assessment or treatment is recommended.