Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological condition that develops following an extremely stressful event or series of events that cause intense fear, particularly if feelings of helplessness accompany the experience. Those with PTSD are much more likely than others to have major depression, problems with substance abuse, or panic disorder sometime in their life, either before or after the development of PTSD. PTSD may be precipitated by war-related trauma, physical or sexual assault or abuse, an accident (such as an airplane crash or a serious motor vehicle accident), or a mass disaster. In PTSD, factors associated with the original event elicit the same stressful feelings later on, so the affected person often tries to avoid these stimuli. Feelings of stress in response to a trauma are normal; PTSD is characterized by the intensity of the feelings, how long they last, how one behaves in response to these feelings, and the presence of particular symptoms. Since exposure to at least one traumatic event is estimated to occur in 5% to 35% of the U.S. population every year, PTSD is a significant public health problem.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of PTSD may develop months or even years after the original trauma and may include the following:

What Causes It?

Normally, during a traumatic event, one's perceptions and thought processes change and serve to dissociate one from the extreme circumstance. This natural defense mechanism helps a person cope with the situation at hand and to separate from the trauma as a form of self-protection. With PTSD, these thought processes linger on and recur in response to any trigger that brings back thoughts of the trauma. This may be related to persistent elevations of a substance called glutamate in the brains of those with PTSD; glutamate generally rises in response to stress and returns to normal following the event. Ongoing trauma (as in the case of an abusive relationship) makes the persistence of dissociative thinking more likely as well.

Who's Most At Risk?

These factors increase the risk for PTSD:

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

There are no laboratory tests to detect PTSD. To diagnose PTSD, a healthcare provider will consider your symptoms together with any history of trauma. He or she will likely also use psychological assessment tools to confirm the diagnosis and involve an appropriately trained specialist (such as a psychologist or psychiatrist) to participate in the evaluation and treatment.

Treatment Options


Early crisis intervention immediately after a traumatic event in the form of support groups, psychotherapy, and use of psychiatric drugs may help prevent PTSD. In addition, cultural or religious rituals such as prayer or healing ceremonies may be helpful in relieving stress and other effects of the trauma.

Treatment Plan

The treatment for PTSD includes the following:

Drug Therapies

Healthcare providers may prescribe antidepressants such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs, such as sertraline, fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, or paroxetine) or monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs, such as phenelzine) for symptoms of PTSD. Medications for anxiety may be helpful as well.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Conventional psychotherapy with behavioral, cognitive, and psychodynamic components is the main treatment for PTSD. However, a number of mind/body techniques as well as other approaches have shown some promise as possible adjunctive treatments for this disorder. Nutrition Although there have not yet been any studies specifically investigating the following, these general nutritional guidelines may be helpful for those with PTSD: Avoid stimulants, such as caffeine from chocolate, coffee, black tea, and cola. Herbs The following herbs may help relieve restlessness, nervousness, and anxiety that can be associated with PTSD: Homeopathy
There have been few studies examining the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. Professional homeopaths, however, may recommend one or more of the following treatments for PTSD based on their knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type. In homeopathic terms, a person's constitution is his or her physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual. Acupuncture
Acupuncture is typically used to help release endorphins and may help with insomnia, anxiety, and depression, each of which can accompany PTSD. Guided imagery has been shown to regulate the release of nervous system chemicals, including endorphins, which are thought to be healing. In one case involving a Vietnam war veteran, acupuncture and relaxation with guided imagery reportedly reduced insomnia, nightmares, and panic attacks over a treatment period of 12 weeks.

Prognosis/Possible Complications

If PTSD symptoms continue for longer than three months, the condition is considered to be chronic. Chronic PTSD may become less severe even if it is not treated. However, it may become severely disabling, interfering with many areas of life and causing physical complaints.


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