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Symptoms Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

    Symptoms Of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

    Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect anyone who has survived or witnessed a traumatizing experience. However, identifying PTSD symptoms can be challenging as it can often be confused with anxiety and depression.

    Understanding PTSD symptoms

    Post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD, is a serious psychiatric disorder that can cause intense feelings of anxiety, fear, nightmares, flashbacks, helplessness and intrusive thoughts. “Individuals suffering from PTSD tend to relive the traumatic moment(s) through flashbacks, intrusive memories and frequent nightmares 1 . They intentionally avoid triggers that can remind them of the event and cause intense anxiety which can disrupt their normal functioning,” explains Mind help. The condition is typically triggered by a traumatic event(s), whether experienced directly or witnessed indirectly. Common events causing PTSD signs usually include natural disasters, loss of a loved one, sexual assault or rape, childhood abuse, crime etc.

    Although a person may overcome the initial shock and trauma of the event, the psychological and emotional effects may persist for a long time in reality and may be very hard to notice. Although we may feel that we have healed from the trauma and moved on with our lives, PTSD signs may appear months or years after the event and greatly affect our lives in a negative way. Not only can it affect our mental and emotional health, it can also impair our ability to perform daily tasks, maintain a career, relationships and our personal lives.

    Read More About Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Here

    Categories Of PTSD Symptoms

    For some individuals, the symptoms can manifest immediately after the occurrence of the traumatic event, while for some other people, symptoms may appear or become a serious problem only after several years.The condition is diagnosed when the sufferer has experienced the symptoms for over a month after the traumatic event. However, there may be cases where signs may manifest after several months or even years. According to a 2015 study, “Symptoms include persistent intrusive recollections, avoidance of stimuli related to the trauma, negative alterations in cognitions and mood, and hyperarousal.”

    Symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder are usually categorized in the following way:

    1. Re-experiencing the trauma

    A patient may often relive the traumatic event through certain symptoms, such as-

    • Distressing memories or recollections
    • Recurring, involuntary & unpleasant flashbacks
    • Intrusive thoughts about the trauma
    • Nightmares about the trauma
    • Loss of awareness or dissociative reactions
    • Intense reaction when reminded of the trauma
    • Feeling sensations that the event is occurring again
    • Intense physical distress due to recollections

    2. Avoidance of reminders of the trauma

    This involves avoidance of things that remind the patient of the event, such as –

    • Avoiding thoughts or conversations about the event
    • Avoiding people, places, objects or activities related to the event
    • Suppressing thoughts or emotions related to the trauma
    • Selective amnesia
    • Social withdrawal or isolation
    • Loss of interest, emotional numbness or detachment
    • Hopelessness

    3. Negative changes in thoughts & mood

    Cognitive and mood related PTSD symptoms may include the following signs:

    • Memory problem or difficulty recalling the event
    • Pessimism or negative thoughts about self and the world
    • Feeling numb, guilt & shame about the trauma
    • Depression, phobias, anxiety, sadness
    • Taking blame about the event
    • Social isolation
    • Trouble interacting or relating with others
    • Psychological and emotional numbness and detachment
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Reduced interest in life
    • Inability to feel positive emotions and moods
    • Derealization or depersonalization

    4. Arousal and reactivity

    PTSD symptoms associated with increased arousal and reactivity can make the patient highly cautious and jittery, especially to stimuli resembling the traumatic event. These symptoms may include:

    • Irritability and angry outbursts
    • Insomnia or difficulty falling or staying asleep
    • Hypervigilance or increased awareness of surroundings
    • Easily startled or jumpy
    • Trouble concentrating
    • Feeling reactive & displaying exaggerated response
    • Feeling constantly tense & anxious

    Common PTSD Symptoms

    Common PTSD Symptoms
    Symptoms Of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

    Apart from the categories of post-traumatic stress disorder signs mentioned above, there can be several other symptoms that can be considered for accurate diagnosis. “PTSD often occurs with other related conditions, such as depression, substance use, memory problems and other physical and mental health problems,” explains the American Psychiatric Association. However, a 2014 study 2 explains that as this mental condition is exceptionally comorbid with other psychiatric disorders, “aside from trauma exposure, what differentiates PTSD from other disorders is the re-experiencing symptoms (for example, nightmares and flashbacks).”

    Some of the most common PTSD symptoms may include the following:

    A. Physical symptoms

    There may be some physical symptoms associated with post traumatic stress disorder, however, these are not listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). Some of the most common physical symptoms associated with this anxiety disorder may include:

    • Heart palpitations
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Sweating profusely
    • Dizziness
    • Stomach pain and diarrhea
    • Headaches
    • Lower back pain
    • Chronic pain or muscle cramps
    • Chest pain or burning in the chest
    • Weakened immune system
    • Sleep disturbances
    • Frequent infections
    • Feeling a loss of control

    B. Panic Attacks

    People affected by PTSD are highly prone to experiencing panic attacks which may include the following symptoms:

    • Lightheadedness
    • Nausea, fainting or vomiting
    • Irritability or agitation
    • Fast heart rate
    • Headaches
    • Feeling restless or excitability
    • Easily fatigued
    • Muscle tension
    • Difficulty managing feelings of worry
    • Sleep problems

    C. Additional symptoms

    Apart from these, there may be some other additional symptoms related to this mental health condition, such as:

    • Alcohol, medication or substance abuse
    • Relationship problems or feeling detached from family
    • Long-term behavioral changes
    • Depression
    • Severe anxiety
    • Suicidal thoughts

    If the symptoms last for over 4 weeks and lead to serious distress affecting daily normal functioning or quality of life of the person, then they may be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the NHS, UK, symptoms may vary greatly among individuals and “can have a significant impact on your day-to-day life.” For some patients, the condition can involve long periods when the symptoms may not appear, but this may be followed by periods with worse symptoms. While some others can experience constant severe symptoms. A 2019 study 3 explains that apart from the core PTSD signs, one can also “experience disturbances in self‐identity (e.g., negative self‐concept), emotional dysregulation (e.g., emotional reactivity, violent outbursts), and persistent difficulties in relationships.”

    Seek Professional Help

    If you can identify these PTSD symptoms in yourself or in a loved one, then it is crucial that you consult a doctor or a mental health professional and seek medical attention. One 2018 study 4 has found that “In terms of treatment, psychological and pharmacological interventions could relieve PTSD symptoms to different degrees.” However, one can experience relapse after discontinuing pharmacotherapy. But “symptoms typically remain stable or continue to improve after completion of evidence-based psychotherapy,” adds another 2016 study 5 . Hence, post-traumatic stress disorder can be effectively treated with psychotherapy and medications.

    👇 References:
    1. El-Solh A. A. (2018). Management of nightmares in patients with posttraumatic stress disorder: current perspectives. Nature and science of sleep, 10, 409–420. []
    2. Sareen J. (2014). Posttraumatic stress disorder in adults: impact, comorbidity, risk factors, and treatment. Canadian journal of psychiatry. Revue canadienne de psychiatrie, 59(9), 460–467. []
    3. Bryant R. A. (2019). Post-traumatic stress disorder: a state-of-the-art review of evidence and challenges. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 18(3), 259–269. []
    4. Miao, X. R., Chen, Q. B., Wei, K., Tao, K. M., & Lu, Z. J. (2018). Posttraumatic stress disorder: from diagnosis to prevention. Military Medical Research, 5(1), 32. []
    5. Lancaster, C. L., Teeters, J. B., Gros, D. F., & Back, S. E. (2016). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Overview of Evidence-Based Assessment and Treatment. Journal of clinical medicine, 5(11), 105. []