Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common form of anxiety which occurs as a consequence of living through a traumatic, dangerous or emotional experience.
Such experiences may include military combat, serious illness, violent physical or sexual attacks or natural disasters. The condition is characterized by re-experiencing the traumatic event through flashbacks and dreams, avoiding reminders of the trauma, and “hyper arousal” symptoms (being easily startled, feeling on edge, and having difficulties with sleep). It is natural and normal to have some of these symptoms for a short time after a significant event; PTSD is characterized by symptom persistence and intensity.
PTSD can be seen at any age, although the manifestations may differ. In very young children, bedwetting, decreased communication, and social withdrawal with a “clingy” behavior may dominate the clinical picture. Adolescents may show antisocial and disrespectful behavior. Overall, the lifetime risk for an episode of PTSD is estimated to be approximately 10 percent.
Risk factors for the disorder include lower socioeconomic status, parental neglect, a personal history of depression or anxiety disorder, and the initial severity of the reaction to the traumatic event. In women, sexual assault and rape are extremely common precipitants; of women with a history of PTSD, 2/3 have such a history. PTSD may also put one at risk for other medical conditions such as heart disease, asthma and liver disease, especially if the PTSD episode is prolonged and untreated.
75 percent of patients who develop PTSD do so within 6 months of the inciting event. Once developed, if it is not treated, it will resolve within one year in only 33 percent of patients; 33 percent are still suffering one decade later.
The diagnosis is made by talking with the patient and reviewing the history and symptoms. In addition to an identified traumatic event, the diagnosis requires one month of a) symptoms of re-experiencing, avoidance and arousal and b) social or occupational impairment.
Treatment of PTSD involves therapy, medication, or both. It is important that the patient sees a health care professional, either a primary care physician or mental health provider, with experience in the condition. Some of the helpful non-medication techniques include education regarding trauma and its effects, relaxation techniques, exercise and talk therapy. Medications approved for the treatment of PSD include the antidepressants sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Prozac). In addition, other antidepressants or benzodiazepines (such as diazepam) may help.
This website provides some helpful information on the subject of PTSD.