PTSD

Overview

What does PTSD stand for?

PTSD stands for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

What is PTSD?

As the name suggests, PTSD is a mental disorder that develops after going through a traumatic event. The event could be emotional (e.g., death of a loved one) or physical (e.g., abuse, accident, war). The following symptoms usually characterize it:

  • Flashbacks of the traumatic event
  • Intrusive, unwanted thoughts related to the event
  • Hypervigilance (always being on alert for any potential danger)
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Self-harming behavior

How do you develop PTSD?

You can develop PTSD either by experiencing a traumatic event first-hand or by witnessing it. If the event was disturbing enough to leave an emotional impact afterward, an individual could start having symptoms of PTSD. These include nightmares, severe anxiety and fear, physical pain, nausea, and so forth. It is also important to note that not everyone who went through a traumatic event will develop PTSD. Most people will initially show common reactions to trauma, feeling upset, fatigue, depression, guilt, sadness, and emotional numbness. However, if they persist with little to no improvement over time, a person could develop PTSD. 

How does PTSD affect daily life?

The intensity of PTSD symptoms could affect an individual’s ability to perform tasks, daily activities and maintain a healthy relationship with others. A person with this disorder can feel uncomfortable, nervous, scared, and anxious at any time or place. This could be incredibly frustrating if the person is in a professional environment like at work, attending a lecture/meeting, or even relaxing at night.

Is PTSD curable?

PTSD is not curable. However, with appropriate medications and lifestyle management, a person with PTSD can see a significant improvement. Usually, a mental health professional will diagnose and propose a personalized treatment plan. The most common treatment types for PTSD include medications and psychotherapy.

What triggers PTSD?

Symptoms of PTSD can be triggered by either obvious or less obvious cues. The cues can be sights, smells, or sounds that remind you of a particular aspect of the traumatic event. An obvious one would be, for example, a war veteran being triggered by a loud scream or the sound of a gunshot from a movie. A less obvious example would be the war veteran feeling uneasy on a rainy day because the combat took place during a rainstorm.

When should I see a doctor for PTSD?

It is usual for someone to feel hopeless, distressed, and sad after a stressful event. However, if the symptoms last up to months, or even years, and they start to affect your daily life and interfere with day-to-day tasks, it is important to go see a mental health professional for help. The sooner you seek help, the better your chances are at stopping the symptoms from worsening.

Causes

What are the causes of PTSD?

The cause of PTSD is most likely due to exposure to trauma. Examples include the death of your family member/friend, being involved in or witnessing a horrific car accident, childhood/sexual abuse, or if you are a war veteran. PTSD does not target certain individuals. It can happen to anyone regardless of their gender, race, profession, and age. Also, it could be due to biological factors (e.g., chemicals in your body) and/or genetics (e.g., a family history of depression and anxiety).

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

According to Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of PTSD can be sorted into four main types:

  • Intrusive memories
    • The symptoms may include:
      • Unwanted memories of the traumatic event
      • Flashbacks of the traumatic event
      • Nightmares about the traumatic event
      • Uncontrollable emotional/physical reactions to the things that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Avoidance
    • The symptoms may include:
      • Avoiding places and people associated with the traumatic event
      • Avoiding thoughts about the traumatic event
      • Not wanting to talk about the traumatic event
  • Adverse changes in thinking and mood
    • The symptoms may include:
      • Hard to stay positive
      • Feeling negative towards other people, the world, and even about yourself
      • Inability to feel pleasure from previously enjoyed activities
      • Feeling depressed, hopeless, and dreadful about the future
  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions
    • The symptoms may include:
      • Always on alert for danger (hypervigilance)
      • Substance abuse (drugs, excessive drinking)
      • Temper tantrums/outbursts
      • Easily startled/scared
      • Self-harm

 

Diagnosis

How is PTSD diagnosed?

PTSD can be diagnosed using a scale (self-assessment questionnaire completed by the patient) and/or looking for appropriate symptoms listed on DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5). Your healthcare professional may also order a physical exam to rule out any medical complications that could be causing the PTSD symptoms.

 

Treatment

How to treat PTSD?

Treatment of PTSD includes medications and psychotherapy. Specialty Clinic of Austin can offer both.

What medications are used to treat PTSD?

Several types of medications can be used to treat symptoms of PTSD. These include:

    • Antidepressants. Antidepressants are used to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. The most common antidepressant class of drugs are the SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). SSRIs work by blocking the reuptake of serotonin neurotransmitters (chemical messengers responsible for regulating mood and happiness) by a nerve cell, thereby increasing the amount and duration of its effects. Sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil) are the 2 FDA-approved SSRIs to treat PTSD.
      Specialty Clinic of Austin can offer a variety of antidepressants.
    • Anxiolytics. Anxiolytics are drugs that reduce anxiety. Some anxiolytics are potent and can be abused or misused, so they are typically not recommended for long-term use.

What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is also known as ‘talk therapy.’ There are several types of psychotherapy for PTSD; examples include cognitive therapy and exposure therapy. Cognitive therapy involves examining your thought patterns and how they affect your behavior. Exposure therapy involves safely exposing the patient to the traumatic event, so he/she may develop coping skills. Your therapist will decide on which type of psychotherapy will work best for you.

 

Sources:

  1. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018a, July 6). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355973
  2. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018b, July 6). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967

 

Information

Medically reviewed by:

Charles Sweet, MD, MPH

Dr. Sweet is a native Texan and attended The University of Texas at Austin for undergraduate studies. He earned his Doctor of Medicine and Master of Public Health degrees at the University of Illinois and then did residency training at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Sweet came back to Austin, TX for specialized training in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and has been in practice since 2009.Dr. Sweet believes strongly in working with, and training Physician Assistants to treat the behavioral health needs of adults, children and adolescents.

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