PTSD: The survivor's anxiety

Wellness RN

Jenn CorbettJanuary 12, 2012 

Dear Wellness RN,

My brother recently returned from Iraq after being deployed for 18 months. He was having difficulty sleeping and hanging out with his old friends. My mom had him meet with our family doctor who diagnosed him with PTSD.

What exactly is PTSD and can it be treated?

Answer: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder generally caused by a traumatic event or episode. About 3.6% of adult Americans (5.2 million people) suffer from PTSD during the course of a year and an estimated 7.8 million Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.

Common causes of PTSD are assaults, war, events of terrorism, natural disasters, or any event where harm is caused or threatened. PTSD was once called shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome. PTSD is a serious anxiety disorder that can have lasting debilitating consequence if left untreated.

Not only are the victims of the trauma affected but families of victims can also develop PTSD, as well as emergency personnel and rescue workers. Symptoms of PTSD vary among individuals but generally surface within three months of the trauma. Some sufferers of PTSD do not recognize the symptoms for years, causing treatment and cure to be more challenging.

Symptoms of PTSD are often grouped into three categories: Reliving, Avoiding and Increased Arousal.

Reliving: Replaying the traumatic event through thoughts, memories, flashbacks, hallucinations and nightmares. Anxiety is often heightened when individuals are reminded of the event. Anniversaries or similarities in situations often trigger the anxiety.

Victims of 911 who experienced PTSD as a result often struggle around the anniversary of the event. Veterans day, while we view this day as a celebration of our veterans, some veterans view this day with great anxiety because it reminds them of their time in war.

Avoiding: Avoidance of people, places, thoughts, or situations that remind them of the trauma. Avoidance of situations that resemble the trauma or the days leading up to the trauma. This avoidance can lead to incidences of isolation and detachment from friends and family.

I spoke to a rape victim once who told me that she can be triggered by something as simple as a tug of her ponytail. It took her right back to all the emotions associated with that painful day.

Increased Arousal: This often shows itself as excessive emotional responses, difficulty relating to others, difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability, anger, difficulty concentrating and being easily startled. Physical symptoms can also occur such as rapid pulse, increased blood pressure, nausea and diarrhea.

The great news about PTSD is that we are becoming more skilled at treating this disorder. The goal of treatment is to reduce the emotional and physical symptoms associated with the PTSD, resulting in improved daily functioning.

Treatment will help the person better cope with the event that triggered the disorder. Treatment often involves intense psychotherapy (counseling), medication, or both. Individuals with PTSD should also try to get involved in a upport group. To locate a support group in your area you can visit ptsd.meetup.com, ptsd.supportgroups.com, or www.madera-county.com/behavioralhealth.

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