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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? continued...

 

  • More than half of all Vietnam veterans, about 1.7 million, have experienced symptoms of PTSD. Although 60% of war veterans with PTSD have had serious medical problems, only 6% of them have a problem due to injury in combat. 
  • African Americans, when they are exposed to trauma, are more likely to develop PTSD than whites.
  • People who are exposed to the most intense trauma are the most likely to develop PTSD. The higher the degree of exposure to trauma, the more likely you are to develop PTSD. So, if something happens to you more than once or if something occurs to you over a very long period of time, the likelihood of developing PTSD is increased.
  • Sometimes, people who have heart attacks, cancer or other serious medical problems that pose a sudden threat to one's physical integrity and produce feelings of horror and helplessness may develop PTSD.

 

  • Refugees ( people who have been through war conditions in their native country or fled from conflict) may develop PTSD and often go years without treatment.
  • New mothers may develop PTSD after an unusually difficult delivery during childbirth. Also, patients who regain partial consciousness during surgery under general anesthesia may be at risk for developing PTSD.

 

Causes of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

When you are afraid, your body activates the "fight or flight" response -- a reference to our caveman ancestors facing a tiger. In reaction, your body releases adrenaline, which is responsible for increasing blood pressure and heart rate and increasing glucose to muscles (to allow you to run away quickly in the face of immediate danger). However, once the immediate danger (which may or may not have actually existed) is gone, the body begins a process of shutting down the stress response, and this process involves the release of another hormone known as cortisol.

If your body does not generate enough cortisol to shut down the flight or stress reaction, you may continue to feel the stress effects of the adrenaline. Trauma victims who develop post-traumatic stress disorder often have higher levels of other stimulating hormones (catecholamines) under normal conditions in which the threat of trauma is not present. These same hormones kick in when they are reminded of their trauma.

Physically, your body also increases your heart rate. After a month in this heightened state, with stress hormones elevated, you may develop further physical changes, such as heightened hearing. This cascade of physical changes, one triggering another, suggests that early intervention may be the key to heading off the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Although terrorism may cause the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in people directly involved, most people are resilient and won’t have serious lingering effects. They will have memories, certainly, but will go on to live their lives without debilitating fear.

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