PTSD is often referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder. When someone suffers from PTSD, it means that they continue to feel like they are in a traumatic situation long after the actual event has passed. This can really impact how they live their lives and how they interact with other people. It’s important to understand what signs someone might be demonstrating if they are suffering from this disorder so that you can help them.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that can occur after someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. This includes war, natural disasters, crime, and accidents.
Symptoms of PTSD include:
- Intrusive memories: flashbacks and nightmares
- Avoidance: avoidance of people, places, and things related to the traumatic event
- Changes in emotions: negative feelings like fear, guilt, shame; difficulty remaining close with others; detached from others; irritability/anger problems; lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy; trouble remembering details related to the trauma
- Hyperarousal symptoms: feeling tense/on edge; easily startled or frightened; trouble concentrating; trouble sleeping
Remember those first few years after a trauma? A lot of people feel like they’re still there, which can lead to feelings of confusion and exhaustion. You may find yourself in situations that seem to trigger your traumatic memories—a pothole on the road might make you think about the car accident, a shopping mall might remind you of the massacre—and when this happens, it’s known as hyperarousal.
Hyperarousal is often a reaction to experiences that remind you of your trauma. But it’s also something that can be helpful for those who have PTSD symptoms: It happens when you encounter reminders of the trauma in your life, but it isn’t harmful. Hyperarousal can help you remember what was important during the experience and give you clarity about your present situation.
At this stage, researchers aren’t sure exactly what causes PTSD. It’s likely that a person with PTSD has a genetic predisposition to developing the disorder, meaning that they have a genetic makeup that increases their risk of having it. However, research has shown that gene activity can be modified by environmental factors—including traumatic events. Stressful life experiences can change how genes behave and even which ones get turned on or off, although the mechanism through which this happens is still unclear.
It’s also believed that how the brain processes hormones released during stress may play a role in causing PTSD. During stressful situations, we release adrenaline (the “fight or flight” hormone) and cortisol (the “stress” hormone). A typical reaction would be to release these hormones when necessary and then stop at once the stressful situation is over. But for people with PTSD, this doesn’t happen—their bodies continue producing these hormones long after the event has passed, leading to anxiety and hyperarousal symptoms like panic attacks and difficulty sleeping.
Other possible causes include: gender (Statistics show women are twice as likely as men to experience depression); childhood trauma; personality (people who are more reserved or anxious may be more susceptible); alcohol or drug abuse
If you have PTSD, you know the intense fear. All of a sudden things that had previously been safe and predictable—like driving over bridges or sleeping through the night—feel terrifying. You may also find yourself experiencing flashbacks, which are flashes of memory from a traumatic event without warning, often without any apparent cause.
Like many people with PTSD, your recovery depends on what treatments you use and how well they work for you. The underlying causes of PTSD are complex and different for everyone, so there isn’t one “best” treatment method that works for every single person. However, many people do well with talk therapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), medication (such as antidepressant drugs or anti-anxiety pills), alternative treatments (such as acupuncture), and clinical trials (which are used to see if new drugs will work better than currently available ones).
One option to consider is participating in a clinical trial. Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are designed to test the safety and effectiveness of treatments, as well as new ways to diagnose, prevent and manage symptoms.
There are some risks and benefits you’ll want to keep in mind if you’re considering participating in a clinical trial. You should always talk with your doctor about whether this is an appropriate course of treatment for you.