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PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)
What is PTSD?
PTDS is an anxiety disorder that some people get after seeing or living through a dangerous event.
When in danger it is completely normal to feel afraid. This fear triggers many normal split second changes in the body to
prepare against the danger or to avoid it. This "fight-or-flight" response is a healthy reaction meant to protect
a person from any harm. But when someone has PTSD, this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed
or frightened even when they are no longer in danger.
Anyone can get PTSD at any
age. This includes war veterans and survivors of physical and sexual assault, abuse, accidents, disasters, and many other
serious events. Not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous event. Some people get it after a friend or family
member experiences danger or is harmed. Some develop PTSD after a sudden, unexpected death of a loved one.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
PTSD can cause many symptoms. These symptoms can be grouped into
1. Re-experiencing symptoms:
- Flashbacks (reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing
heart or sweating)
- Bad dreams or nightmares
- Frightening thoughts
2. Avoidance Symptoms:
- Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
- Feeling strong guilt, depression or worry
interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
- Having trouble remembering the dangerous
Things that remind a person of the traumatic event
can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after
a bad car crash, a person who usually drives may want to avoid driving or even riding in a car.
- Being easily startled
tense or "on edge"
- Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts
Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the
traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such
as sleeping, eating or concentrating.
It is natural to have some of these symptoms after any dangerous event. Sometimes
people have very serious symptoms that go away after a few weeks. This is called acute stress disorder, or ASD. When the symptoms
last for more than a few weeks and become an ongoing problem, they might by PTSD. Some with PTSD don't show any symptoms for
weeks or even months.
Do children react differently than adults?
and teens have extreme reactions to trauma, but their symptoms may not be the same as adults. In very young children, these
symptoms may include:
- Bed-wetting, when they already learned how to use the toilet before
- Forgetting how or being unable to talk
- Acting out the scary event during playtime (many
children who watched the twin towers falling down on television, often repeatedly, had later been seen playing with toy planes
and making them crash into Lego or block towers). A side note: many young children who kept seeing the towers falling down
on television played over and over for days, thought that many towers had come down and felt tremendously scared. It helps
to have children and teens avoid excess media coverage after a disaster or tragic event.
unusually clingy with a parent or other adult
Older children and teens usually
show signs similar to adults. They may display disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive behaviors. Older children and teens
may feel guilty for not preventing injury or deaths. They may also have thoughts of revenge.
Why do some people get PTSD and others don't?
Not everyone who lives
through a dangerous event will get PTSD. In fact, most will not get the disorder.
play a part in whether a person will develop PTSD or not. Some of these factors are risk factors that may increase the chances
of a person getting it. Other factors, resilience factors, help a person reduce the risk of getting the disorder. Some of
both factors are present before the trauma and others become important during and after a traumatic event.
Risk Factors for PTSD include:
- Living through dangerous
events or traumas
- Having a history of mental illness
- Getting hurt
- Seeing people hurt or killed
- Feeling horror, helplessness or extreme fear
- Having little or no social support after the event
- Dealing with extra stress after
the event, such as loss of a loved one, pain and injury, or loss of a job or home
- Resilience Factors that may reduce the risk of PTSD include:
- Seeking out support from other people, such as friends and family
- Finding a support
group after a traumatic event
- Feeling good about one's own actions in the face of danger
- Having a coping strategy or a way of getting through the bad event and learning from it
able to act and respond effectively despite feeling fear
Researchers are studying the
importance of various risk factors and resilience factors. With more study, it may be possible someday to predict who is likely
to get PTSD and prevent it.