The essential element of PTSD, is that a person either experienced or observed an event which involved actual or threatened death or serious injury to self or someone else. Within a family, PTSD can develop in
response to learning about the violent death of a loved one.
This disorder was first described in Vietnam War veterans, but has also been called "battle fatigue" and "war neurosis" in past wars. More than 50 percent of combat veterans may experience some
form of PTSD, although the milder forms may not be diagnosed or treated. Combat veterans tend to experience more severe forms of PTSD because the duration and severity of trauma during war is greater, but the
disorder is frequently diagnosed in civilians who have experienced and survived serious trauma. For example, the victims of serious accidents, rape survivors, people burned out of their homes, survivors of other
natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes, and violent crime victims all may develop PTSD. In each of these events, the threat of death or serious injury is present, and those who develop PTSD
realized, or believed, that their lives were on the line.
Another characteristic of PTSD is the remembering of the trauma, and sometimes actually reliving the events in your mind. Survivors have recurrent recollections of the event, distressing dreams about what
happened, or some other form of psychological rehashing of the event. (For example, the survivor of a head-on car crash may sometimes "see" another car coming toward him/her, even though there is no other
car.) These violent recollections can have a serious impact on a person's life. As a result, the person avoids all situations that might be a reminder of the trauma, and tends to react with significant anxiety
whenever there is a reminder of the event.
People with PTSD may experience a variety of somatic and psychological complaints, including sleep disturbance, outbursts of anger, or an exaggerated startle response. (They jump at sudden noises or movements).
Social relationships often suffer, as the person becomes more withdrawn and detached. If you have experienced a serious trauma, and have some of these symptoms, you may want to consult with a psychologist about your
condition to determine if you have PTSD, and to learn what can be done to help you.
Treatment is available for PTSD, including the more severe forms seen in combat veterans. A combination of cognitive therapy to alter the recollections of the trauma, supportive counseling while expressing
the feelings associated with the events, and behavioral interventions to control the stress responses appears to be most effective.
In more severe cases of PTSD, your physician may prescribe medication to be used in addition to the psychological treatment, but medication alone will not reslve these problems.
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