Post-traumatic stress disorder, or "PTSD" is a mental health condition that can occur after a person experiences or sees a traumatic event. These events can include wars, crimes, fires, accidents, abuse, and death of loved ones, just to name a few. Medical events such as heart attacks, surgery, or treatment in an ICU (Intensive Care Unit) can also trigger PTSD.
The word PTSD is often used in our vocabulary without fully understanding its true meaning. We often speak light heartedly about how a stressful event will give us or trigger PTSD. It is important that we understand the medical diagnosis of PTSD. Below we will discuss the symptoms of PTSD and look at the medical diagnostic criteria.
It is currently estimated that about 1-6 % of the general adult population sampled across the world have PTSD diagnosis. Not everyone who lives through a traumatic event will get PTSD. Currently researchers do not know why it affects some people and not others.
Symptoms of PTSD: Symptoms vary and usually start within 3 months after the event. There are 4 Categories of PTSD symptoms as below with some examples of each.
- fearful thoughts
- avoiding discussion about the event
- avoiding situations that remind the person of the event
Arousal and reactivity symptoms:
- difficulty sleeping
- irritability and angry outbursts
- hypersensitivity to possible dangers
- feeling tense and anxious
Symptoms that affect mood and thinking:
- difficulty remembering aspects of the event
- feelings of guilt and blame
- feeling detached and estranged from others and emotionally and mentally numb
- having little interest in life
- difficulty concentrating
- mental health problems such as depression, phobias, and anxiety
For a person to receive a diagnosis of PTSD, they must meet criteria that are set out by the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Fifth Edition (DSM-5).
According to these guidelines, the person must:
1. Have been exposed to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence whether directly, through witnessing it, by it happening to a loved one, or during professional duties
2. Experience the following for more than one month:
- one or more intrusion symptoms
- one or more avoidance symptoms
- two or more arousal and reactivity symptoms that began after the trauma
- two or more symptoms that affect mood and thinking
A diagnosis of PTSD is made only after a month has passed since the traumatic event. Before that time, persons with PTSD-like symptoms and impairment in their daily lives are diagnosed with acute stress disorder.
Once properly evaluated and diagnosed by your health care provider you can seek treatment. Treatment includes CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and/or medications. CBT involved talking with your therapist to find behavioral ways to reduce your symptoms by doing certain activities. Medications are selected by your healthcare provider based on your symptoms and considering potential side effects.
As always If you have any of the above symptoms it is always a good idea to bring it up with your primary care doctor. PTSD can be an invisible illness, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Your doctor can help you get the right resources needed for diagnosis and treatment.
Dr. Kaheri is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.