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What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a form of anxiety disorder caused by a distressing or traumatic life event.

Some of the common risk factors for PTSD include:

  • Being sexually or physically abused early in life
  • Early military life
  • Being a witness to or victim of a serious accident, fire, terrorist attack or natural disaster such as a flood or earthquake
  • Witnessing violence or violent death
  • Being a victim of physical assault such as rape, robbery or mugging

The disorder is not caused by more regular stressful life events such as financial bankruptcy, divorce, job change or house move.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD may develop immediately after an unpleasant experience or may occur weeks, months or even years afterwards. Symptoms of the condition vary between individuals but one of the most common symptoms is experiencing nightmares or flashbacks of the traumatic experience that caused PTSD in the first place. This often leads to other problems such as feelings of despair, depression, low mood, irritation, guilt, isolation, difficulty sleeping or concentrating and confusion.

The symptoms of PTSD are usually severe enough to cause panic and horror and therefore interfere with day-to-day living as well as social and personal relationships. In severe cases, a person with PTSD may eventually start to have suicidal thoughts or commit suicide.

Treatment

PTSD is a treatable condition and some therapeutic approaches are:

  • Watchful waiting: In mild cases, the patient is monitored to see if symptoms either worsen or improve rather than being actively treated.
  • In more severe cases, counselling or psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy may be employed. A more recent approach is eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing which helps the hippocampus to process unpleasant memories and reduce their influence on an individual.
  • Medications for PTSD include the antidepressants paroxetine and mirtazapine

Reviewed by , BSc

Further Reading

Last Updated: Oct 14, 2013

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