Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder, more commonly referred to as PTSD, is a condition that can affect anyone who has experienced a traumatic event in the past. These events do not necessarily have to be life-threatening, for instance, PTSD can be triggered by events such as the sudden death of a loved one. In fact, any event which places the brain under sufficient stress is enough to cause PTSD, and what might not affect one person may be traumatic for another.

Traumatic events can replay themselves through the form of flashbacks and nightmares. Those who suffer from PTSD may also experience feelings of isolation, become easily startled, have trouble sleeping, and be at increased risk of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. PTSD also significantly increases the chances of developing an addiction or behavioral disorder.

a man suffering with ptsd sits with one hand on his wrist

Symptoms

There are a number of different symptoms of PTSD that affect various parts of the lives of those who suffer from the condition. PTSD can go undiagnosed for many months, sometimes even years, as the symptoms which manifest can be mistaken for other mental health disorders. The clinical team at The Excel Center is extremely experienced in the analysis of co-occurring disorders and the identification and correct dual diagnosis.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, you must experience one of the following for at least one month:

  • One or more re-experiencing symptoms
  • One or more avoidance symptoms
  • Two or more arousal and reactivity symptoms
  • Two or more emotional/mood-related symptoms

Re-experiencing symptoms are the most common symptom from PTSD, and they usually begin to occur within one month of a traumatic event.

These symptoms include:

  • Flashbacks – re-experiencing trauma
  • Nightmares
  • Repetitive distressing or fearful thoughts, images, or sensations
  • Feelings of physical discomfort or sickness, such as nausea

The onset and re-living of these distressing experiences and symptoms can put the sufferer at an increased risk of developing other mental health conditions.

Avoidance symptoms occur when someone who suffers from PTSD attempts to forget about the traumatic event by avoiding people, places, and things that may trigger that uncomfortable memory for them. Some of the avoidance symptoms of PTSD include:

Changing a routine to avoid potentially uncomfortable triggers (for example, someone who lost a loved one in a plane crash may become terrified of flying, and subsequently avoid flying anywhere)

Suppressing emotions related to a traumatic event, refusing to discuss it with family and friends

Unlike other symptoms, which can be triggered by external factors, arousal and reactivity symptoms usually remain constant for those who experience them. Those who experience arousal and reactivity symptoms are generally ‘on edge’ at all times and we often see this in war veterans or people who have been in areas of conflict. It is common to seek the relief and alleviation of these symptoms and so sufferers may turn to drugs and alcohol for regulation.

Some of the other symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Sudden violent or aggressive outbursts
  • Becoming easily startled
  • Trouble sleeping or insomnia

Emotional symptoms, which affect mood and cognitive abilities, can begin to worsen after a traumatic event. They commonly last for a few weeks following a traumatic event, but if they persist for a month or longer they are generally linked to PTSD. These symptoms can be worsened by substance abuse.

PTSD in children is also common and can present itself in some different ways than in adults.

Although they can exhibit all of the symptoms that adults can, which are listed above, children may also show symptoms including:

  • Repeatedly re-enacting a traumatic event during playtime
  • Speaking less frequently than they had previously
  • Becoming increasingly shy
  • Avoiding things that remind them of a traumatic event
  • General misbehavior
  • Wetting the bed, despite being able to use the toilet
  • Being uncharacteristically clingy with a parent or guardian

The Excel Center does not treat children, exclusively serving young adults and those in mid-life. However, it can be important to determine if a client has suffered from PTSD as a child, what effect this had on their mental health, and if they are still suffering with related symptoms.

Causes

PTSD develops in about one-third of people who experience severe trauma, and it is not fully understood why some people develop it and others do not. Some factors make people more likely to develop PTSD, such as suffering from anxiety or depression in the past.

Some of the traumatic experiences that can cause PTSD include:

  • Car accidents
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Childhood neglect or child abuse
  • Domestic abuse
  • War
  • Miscarriages and stillbirths
  • The death of a loved one
  • Torture
  • Severe health issues

Some research suggests PTSD develops as a survival tactic to better equip you in the future to deal with a traumatic event.

High Adrenaline Levels

People with PTSD usually suffer from high levels of stress hormones. Stress causes permanent changes in the brain, and as one of the key side effects of PTSD is to feel constantly under threat, the sufferer will be releasing high levels of cortisol meaning that the brain thinks it is in danger even when it isn’t.

Hippocampus size difference

The hippocampus is a part of the brain that controls memory and emotions. The effect of early life trauma can result in a smaller hippocampus which can be extremely problematic as this part of the brain is critical in the formation, storage and organization of new memories as well as connecting appropriate narratives, sensations and emotions. This can lead to misplaced, inappropriate reactions as well as contribute to depression and anxiety.

TREATMENT

Our specialist clinical team will undertake a thorough assessment for PTSD with your care and best interests at the fore. We encourage a process of “watchful waiting” for a period of weeks where we stay in support of our client and together we monitor their symptoms to see if there are any changes. If a follow-up appointment results in a recommendation for treatment, there are three typical forms of therapy that those who suffer from PTSD are recommended to try; cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR), and group therapy.

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