Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms, Causes and Effects
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is brought on by witnessing a terrifying, usually life-threatening, event. Severe anxiety, flashbacks, uncontrollable thoughts and nightmares are common symptoms of the illness. These symptoms can worsen and last for years, so it is best to seek treatment for PTSD as soon as possible.
Are There Different Types of PTSD?
Three different types of post-traumatic stress disorder exist. If symptoms last less than three months, the condition is considered acute PTSD. If symptoms last at least three months, the disorder is referred to as chronic PTSD. If symptoms manifest at least six months following a traumatic event, the disorder is classified delayed-onset PTSD, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH).
What Causes PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that is triggered when a person witnesses a psychologically traumatic event, such as war, a natural disaster, or any situation that invokes feelings of helplessness or intense fear. While most people eventually adjust to the aftereffects of such events, some people find their symptoms getting worse with time. These worsening symptoms are the product of PTSD.
As is usually the case with mental health issues, doctors cannot pinpoint why some people develop PTSD. According to the Mayo Clinic, probable causes of PTSD include inherited mental and personality traits, a culmination of life experiences, and the way hormones and chemicals are regulated by the brain when responding to stress.
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What Are the Signs of PTSD?
The Mayo Clinic mentions several reoccurring symptoms, including fearful thoughts, flashbacks and bad dreams. These symptoms can become problematic in a person’s life. Some of the avoidance symptoms include difficulty remembering the traumatic event and avoiding reminders of the experience, such as places, people and objects. Hyperarousal symptoms may also arise, such as feeling tense, being startled easily and having trouble sleeping. While it is normal to experience some of these symptoms after a terrible event, symptoms lasting more than a few weeks may be signs of PTSD.
Emotional Symptoms of PTSD
The emotional symptoms of PTSD are depression, worry, intense guilt and feeling emotionally numb. Another symptom is anhedonia, which is characterized by a loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) states that anhedonia plays a part in predicting psychiatric comorbidity, or the presence of more than one psychiatric disorder.
Physical Symptoms of PTSD
The NCBI has documented many physical complaints among PTSD sufferers. The physical problems reported included higher rates of neurological, respiratory, musculoskeletal and cardiovascular symptoms. Feelings of depression, guilt, tension, worry and difficulty sleeping may contribute to the physical ailments.
Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder causes short-term memory loss and can have long-term chronic psychological repercussions, according to the American Psychological Association (APA) and the NCBI. Fortunately, psychotherapeutic intervention and treatment can alleviate and often eliminate short-term and long-term effects of PTSD.
Is There a Test or Self-Assessment I Can Do?
There are free, anonymous self-assessments available online, such as this test offered by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. You should discuss your results with your doctor, or you can reach us at for more information.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Medication: PTSD Drug Options
Per the NIH, the United States Food and Drug Administration has approved sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil), both antidepressants, for use as post-traumatic stress disorder medication. The side effects of these drugs include:
- Sleeplessness or drowsiness
- Agitation or a jittery feeling
- Problems having or enjoying sex
Most of these symptoms tend to subside after a short period of time.
PTSD Drugs: Possible Options
Doctors may prescribe medications other that Zoloft and Paxil, especially if comorbid disorders exist. According the NIH, benzodiazepines are used to aid relaxation and sleep. The side effects include problems with memory and the risk of drug dependency. Antipsychotics may be prescribed. They are typically given to patients with coexisting conditions, such as schizophrenia. Some side effects of antipsychotics are weight gain and a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes. Additionally, other antidepressants may be used as PTSD drugs. Possible options are fluoxetine (Prozac) and citalopram (Celexa).
Medication Side Effects
In addition to the side effects already listed, the following side effects may occur:
- Dry mouth
- Increased appetite
- Blurred vision
Some antidepressants have a higher likelihood of causing weight gain than others. Nausea and headaches usually stop occurring within a few weeks of starting the medications. For dry mouth, chew gum or suck on ice cubes. If you experience drowsiness, take your medication before bedtime. Likewise, for insomnia, take your medication in the morning. Drink a lot of water to avoid constipation, and refrain from use of tobacco, alcohol and caffeine to lessen dizziness. Talk to your doctor about how your medication affects you. There may be options that are more suitable if you find the side effects of a particular medication overwhelming.
PTSD Drug Addiction, Dependence and Withdrawal
The Journal of the American Academy of Family Physicians warns about the abuse risk of benzodiazepines. When taken chronically, they can be addictive but they are relatively safe when taken in moderation. If you have a history of substance abuse, benzodiazepines should not be used. It is important that you not cease taking your medication as this can cause withdrawal effects and lead to recurrence of the symptoms of your illness. Instead, ask your doctor about weaning you from the medication. Always consult your doctor about your medication concerns so you can plan an alternative PTSD treatment regimen.
Overdosing should not be a concern if medication is taken only as prescribed. The National Safety Council advises that you never take a higher daily dosage than recommended by your doctor and that you not refill your prescriptions early. Avoid alcohol or sedatives when taking medications, and tell your doctor about any other medications you are taking. Always keep medications in their original container.
Read the leaflets that come with your medications to familiarize yourself with side effects, signs of toxicity, what to do if you miss a dose and what to do in the case of medication overdose. If you have any questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist. If you think you may have overdosed, go to the emergency room immediately.
Depression and PTSD
Depression is characterized by feelings of sadness or low mood lasting more than a few days. Depression and PTSD commonly occur together. Almost one in 10 American adults suffer from depression in a given year, according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Depression can affect your ability to perform daily functions and can diminish your quality of life. It also has adverse effects on eating and sleeping habits.
Depression is three to five times more likely to be diagnosed in people who are living with PTSD. If you no longer care about activities you once enjoyed or are having thoughts of suicide or hurting yourself, seek help immediately. We are available any time and can be reached at .
Dual Diagnosis: Addiction and PTSD
Studies conducted by the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder found a high correlation between substance use disorders and PTSD. For patients suffering from these co-occurring disorders, studies suggest keeping detailed journals of your feelings, thoughts and behaviors and then talking to your doctor about them. Be sure to discuss issues you may be having with substance abuse and PTSD, as a big deterrent in the efficacy of treatment is the tendency to focus only on the condition that seems to be bothering the patient most. Communicating with your doctor is of the utmost importance in treating any disorder.