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For some, getting out alive means being as good as dead.

MAY 2011

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological reaction to experiencing or witnessing a significantly stressful, traumatic, or shocking event. This might be a war, or a disaster like an earthquake,  flood, or fire. It might be a car crash, a rape, or other physical or sexual abuse.

Any situation where there is a risk of death or injury, seeing others killed or injured, or sometimes even hearing about such things, can result in PTSD. However, these experiences do not always lead to PTSD. It is normal to react to extreme danger or disaster with feelings of fear, horror, or helplessness. Usually these feelings fade and the person is able to get on with life, even though it may be changed forever.

Signs of PTSD

In cases when feelings of anxiety persist for a longer period, some level of emotional and psychological disturbances can occur.

Intrusive thoughts and images. With PTSD, the unpleasant feelings associated with the trauma keep coming back, along with images, memories, and intrusive thoughts about the event. There may be nightmares or bad dreams.

In the daytime, the person may feel it is all happening again or have brief but vivid memories or flashbacks. These can happen without obvious cause or can be triggered by sights, smells, or the sight of something that resembles the tragic event; they can also occur randomly, much to the individual’s confusion. They are typically accompanied by intense feelings of guilt, grief, fear, or anger.

Avoidance. PTSD has an impact on the person’s relationships. Individuals with PTSD may try to avoid situations, people, or events that remind them of the trauma. Family memebers may be puzzled by the person’s withdrawal into themselves.

People with PTSD may be unable to feel emotions, even for the people they love or care for. They may feel detached from others and lose interest in things they once enjoyed. This can lead to misunderstandings, estrangement, and further withdrawal. Avoidance can lead to alcohol or drug abuse, depression, and eating difficulties.

Hyperarousal. People with PTSD may be constantly watchful or jumpy. Their sleep is often disturbed and they may feel irritable and angry with themselves and others. Memory, concentration, and decision-making are often affected.

The intense feelings

The experiences outlined above are common in the first few weeks after a significant trauma. Some people may have PTSD symptoms that occur within a month of the traumatic event but resolve on their own within four weeks. This is called acute stress disorder. If the symptoms persist beyond four weeks, cause the person intense distress, and affect their everyday life, the diagnosis is changed to PTSD. Sometimes there is a delay of months or even years between the event and the onset of PTSD.

For more information about PTSD, check out the May 2011 issue of Health Today now available on the newsstands.


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