Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects an estimated eight million adults in any given year, reports the Department of Veterans Affairs. Furthermore, about eight in every 100 people will have PTSD at some point during their lifetime. PTSD is a mental health disorder triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. When left untreated, PTSD can disrupt your entire life and eventually lead to other serious health problems including depression, substance abuse, and suicide.
Here’s more about the symptoms and risk factors of PTSD and how this serious mental health disorder can be effectively treated.
What Are Symptoms of PTSD?
Experiencing fear, distress, and anxiety following a traumatic event is completely normal. Many people who experience trauma may be affected by these symptoms short-term, while some may develop ongoing symptoms that eventually turn into PTSD. An adult is officially diagnosed with PTSD when they experience its symptoms for at least one month.
According to the National Institutes of Health, symptoms of PTSD include:
- At least one avoidance symptom (avoiding thoughts, feelings, places, events, or things related to the traumatic event)
- At least one re-experiencing symptom (having nightmares, frightening thoughts, and flashbacks of the traumatic event)
- At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms (feeling on edge, being easily startled, having angry outbursts, having sleep disturbances)
- At least two cognition and mood symptoms (having negative thoughts about the world, feeling guilt or blame, losing interest in favorite activities, having difficulty remembering key components of the traumatic event)
What Causes PTSD?
According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), researchers remain unsure as to why some people develop PTSD and others don’t. Potential causes include genetics, neurobiology, and meeting one or more PTSD risk factors. Some doctors theorize that PTSD may also be caused by one’s temperament, having a history of stressful experiences or trauma, or having a family history of depression and anxiety.
What Are Risk Factors of PTSD?
PTSD can affect anyone regardless of age—though populations at highest risk include combat veterans and people who have experienced or witnessed an accident, disaster, abuse, a physical or sexual assault, or been encountered with a dangerous weapon.
Other common risk factors of PTSD include:
- Experiencing a childhood trauma
- Experiencing a long-term traumatic event
- Experiencing extra stress following the traumatic event
- Having feelings of horror, extreme fear, or helplessness
- Having a personal or family history of mental health disorders
- Having a history of substance abuse or addiction
- Having no friends, family, or a strong support network
- Having a job that increases exposure to traumatic events, such as that in the military or law enforcement
How Can PTSD Be Treated?
Medications and psychotherapy are the most common treatments for PTSD. Some people may receive both treatments, while others may receive only one or the other. The goal of PTSD treatment is to help people gain better control of their lives and reduce symptoms such as fear and anxiety related to their disorder.
Antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and prazosin are the medications most commonly used to treat PTSD. Prazosin is an alpha-blocker typically used to treat high blood pressure, but may also be used to treat sleep problems associated with PTSD, reports the NLM.
Exposure therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) are common psychotherapies used to treat PTSD. Exposure therapy helps patients face and overcome the trauma by gradually exposing them to it — usually by having them imagine the traumatic event, writing about it, or visiting the place where it happened. CBT helps patients identify and change harmful patterns of thinking that cause them to continually experience symptoms of PTSD, and EMDR uses the patient’s rapid, rhythmic eye movements to reduce the intensity of emotions and memories associated with the trauma.
If you or your loved one is experiencing symptoms of PTSD after having gone through or witnessed a traumatic event, give Alter Behavioral Health a call to discuss your available treatment options.