Overview of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health disorder that you can develop if you experience or witness an event that you perceive as terrifying. It may coexist with other mental health illnesses, too, such as anxiety or depression. PTSD and its symptoms may affect the quality of your life or disrupt your sleep and lead to sleep disorders, such as nightmares or insomnia. Some of its symptoms and signs may include flashbacks of the traumatic event or negative thoughts. People who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event may face adjustment difficulties, which may be transitional. When they persist, and they last for months or years, you might have PTSD. This article will focus on essential information regarding PTSD, its risk factors, causes, symptoms, signs, and therapeutic interventions. Treatment of PTSD may include medication, therapy, or home remedies to help improve symptoms and signs, such as weighted blankets.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that may develop in those who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic or terrifying event, such as a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, or a severe accident. Sexual assault or rape may also lead to PTSD. People with PTSD have disturbing thoughts related to the traumatic event that are usually intense. A very characteristic symptom of the disorder is reliving the trauma through flashbacks, images, or disruptive nightmares. To develop PTSD, exposure to a traumatic event should exist. Many veteran soldiers, for example, after War World II, experienced PTSD, and the traumatic event was war itself. Sometimes, exposure to a traumatic event is indirect. For example, learning the details of violent death or sexual assault is direct exposure to a terrifying event.
How common is PTSD?
An estimated 70% of adult Americans experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime, and about 20% of them will develop PTSD. Also, almost 8 million individuals have PTSD every year. Research, based on annually reported cases suggests that one out of thirteen people will develop the disorder once in their lifetime. Also, an estimated 5% of teens live with PTSD. Finally, studies indicate that PTSD is more common in females than in males, or at least women report it more commonly. Other interesting facts about PTSD include the following:
- People with PTSD are three to five times more likely to present with a depressive disorder
- People with PTSD and emotional numbing have a higher suicide risk
- People with PTSD are more likely to practice substance abuse
What causes PTSD?
You may develop PTSD after a very stressful or terrifying event. PTSD can also develop after a prolonged traumatic experience, such as immigration. The following are some types of events that may lead to the development of PTSD:
- serious accidents or health problems
- physical assault or violence
- sexual assault
- physical or sexual abuse
- childhood or domestic abuse
- traumatic events at work
- losing a baby or having traumatic childbirth experiences
- war, terrorism, conflict, or torture
However, only one out of three people that experience or witness severe trauma will develop PTSD. Scientists are not sure why this happens, but some theories suggest potential mechanisms on why PTSD develops.
The mechanism of survival
Some researchers believe that PTSD is an acquired mechanism that certain people develop, to help themselves get prepared in case of future and similar traumatic events. Flashbacks may work like the desensitisation technique used in phobias to gradually expose the individual to the trigger of fear. In this sense, flashbacks help the person with PTSD to think of the event in detail and prepare themselves for similar ones in the future. However, these symptoms and signs result in even more distress and anxiety instead of helping the individual develop survival mechanisms.
High levels of adrenaline
Research suggests that people with PTSD experience a prolonged fight or flight reaction that causes imbalances of the stress hormones in the body. We enter a fight or flight reaction when in physical or emotional danger. As a result, our bodies produce high amounts of stress hormones. People with the disorder may also be in this state in the absence of a dangerous stimulus, keep having abnormal levels of stress hormones that lead to hyperarousal and numbed emotions.
Architectural brain changes
The brains of people with PTSD appear differently in brain scans. The changes are regarding some areas of the brain that process emotions. One of them is the hippocampus that processes memory and affects, and that appears smaller in people with PTSD. One of the functions of the hippocampus is to process memories. When it malfunctions, flashbacks take over without being processed, further worsening anxiety.
What are the risk factors for PTSD?
Anyone can get PTSD regardless of their age. However, having risk factors might make it more likely to happen. Having risk factors does not mean you will surely develop a disorder. Similarly, not having any does not mean you won't get PTSD. The following are some of the most well-established risk factors regarding PTSD:
- Experiencing or witnessing intense trauma
- Having a history of trauma, such as childhood abuse
- Having a job that may expose you to a traumatic experience
- Living with other mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression
- Being prone to substance abuse, such as alcohol or drugs
- Not having a reliable support system in your social or family life
- Having a family history of mental health disorders, such as anxiety or mood disorders
What are the symptoms and signs of PTSD?
Symptoms and signs of PTSD present a high heterogeneity but usually fall under one of the following four categories. Most people start having them one month after the traumatic event, while others might have a delayed presentation that may last for months or years. Also, in some, the symptoms are constant and severe, while others may have them intermittently. Symptoms and signs of PTSD vary in intensity but severely affect the quality of daily life.
Intrusive thoughts or re-experiencing
Most people with PTSD experience repeated unwanted and involuntary memories of the traumatic event. They might present as flashbacks or distressing dreams and nightmares. Some people may have physical sensations that accompany their unusually vivid flashbacks, which feels like if the individual is re-experiencing the traumatic event from the beginning.
People with PTSD have an avoidant behaviour regarding objects, places, activities, or other people that may remind them of the traumatic or distressing event. The whole point behind this behaviour is that they want to avoid the memory of it. However, most individuals try to push away their symptoms and mask them through other activities or work. Others try to accept them and decide not to feel anything anymore, known as emotional numbing. Avoidance leads to resistance regarding talking about what or how it happened.
Feeling on edge or hyperarousal
PTSD often leads to hyperarousal, meaning difficulties to relax. People with the disorder might be easily startled or anxious, presenting with irritability, sleep disturbances, or problems focusing the attention on one topic or task. Anger outbursts or self-destructive behaviours are also characteristic of PTSD. Such symptoms may affect an individual's ability to form healthy relationships or develop in the workplace.
Negative thoughts and feelings
PTSD may result in a distorted cognitive schema, mainly composed of negative thoughts, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, anger, or shame. People with the disorder might find it difficult to trust others or connect with them. Often, they lose interest in activities they previously enjoyed.
Other less specific symptoms
PTSD may come with secondary mental health or constitutional symptoms, such as:
- Anxiety or phobias
- Self-harming or destructive behaviour,
- Chest pain
- Stomach aches
Constitutional symptoms may be the result of organic or mental health disorders. A correct assessment of your symptoms will reveal whether you have an underlying medical condition that causes your symptoms, or it is PTSD that causes physical symptoms and signs. Exclusion of organic causes always precedes the diagnosis of a mental health disorder.
How does PTSD affect sleep?
PTSD affects sleep profoundly. People with the disorder report sleeping problems accompanied by day-time distress and worsening of their symptoms. At the same time, sleep disturbances are an independent risk factor regarding the onset and triggering of over mental health disorders. Therefore, there is sometimes an overlap between PTSD and sleep disorders, as sleep disturbances can lead to nightmares and intrusive thoughts the same way that PTSD does. The following are some of the most well-known mechanisms by which PTSD affects sleep:
- Sleep-disordered breathing
- Periodic leg movements and restless leg syndrome
- Night sweats
- Dysphoric dreams
- Producing sounds (or vocalisations)
- Dream enactment, such as flailing arms or running
PTSD in children
PTSD may not be profound in a child but quite hidden behind certain behaviours. Children with PTSD may experience the same symptoms and signs as adults do, but express them or making them profound differently. They often relive the traumatic event over and over again, have sleeping problems, nightmares, and negative thoughts. During the day, they may have memories and flashbacks of the traumatic event. Emotional numbing is hard to notice in a child but may happen in children with PTSD. They might be more aggressive or jittery and alert than before. They might also avoid people, places, or activities that used to bring them joy. Interestingly, children with PTSD may have problems at school or start adopting behaviours that younger children do, such as bedwetting or thumb sucking. Physical symptoms might be present too. For parents and teachers, it is crucial to observe any changes in a child's behaviour, as children do not usually talk unless asked.
Diagnosis of PTSD
To diagnose PTSD, you will initially undergo a physical exam to exclude other organic medical problems that might be causing the symptoms. Following, your doctor will perform a psychological evaluation to discuss your symptoms and signs, and find out more about what triggered them and under which circumstances. Finally, to assess your symptomatology, your physician might use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) or the ICD-10. The key to the diagnosis of PTSD is exposure to a traumatic event, that may take place in the following ways:
- Direct exposure to a traumatic event
- Indirect exposure to a traumatic event, through details and information about it
- Witnessing a traumatic event
- Being exposed to traumatic information or graphic material over and over again
- Someone from your family or friends experienced a traumatic event
PTSD diagnosis requires you to keep experiencing symptoms and signs for more than a month after initial exposure to a traumatic event, and if these symptoms significantly and negatively affect the quality of your life.
Treatment of PTSD
First-line treatment of PTSD does not include medication. Doctors preserve oral drugs for more complex or resistant cases of PTSD that do not respond therapeutically to other interventions. Treatment of PTSD starts with an assessment of your symptoms and their persistence, and intensity. If you have mild PTSD that does not significantly affect the quality of your life, or your symptoms lasted for less than four weeks, healthcare professionals suggest watchful waiting. This approach is for those PTSD cases that might get better in time, without any intervention. Doctors suggest a re-evaluation in one month.
The first-line treatment of PTSD is usually psychotherapy. In severe cases of PTSD, you might need a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a first-line choice. It focuses on negative thinking and how you can change the way you think or act. When trauma-based, CBT helps you overcome the traumatic experience and learn how to manage intrusive thoughts and memories, or feelings of guilt regarding what happened. Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) is a new approach that makes you follow a movement your therapist does with their hands or fingers while processing the traumatic event. Finally, some people may benefit from group therapy because they find it easier to talk in front of others, share their experiences, and relate to other people's traumatic events.
Oral medication with antidepressants is another therapeutic approach. However, you might choose medication only under certain circumstances, such as the following:
- You do not want to have psychotherapy
- Psychological treatment is not effective
- Psychological treatment had little or no effect on your condition
- You have another physical or mental health disorder that prevents you from getting any benefits from psychotherapy
People with co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety, might benefit from medication, and improve their symptoms, related to mood, stress, or sleeping problems. Usually, the minimum amount of time you should take antidepressants for PTSD is twelve months, therefore a commitment to the treatment is necessary. Consult your doctor about the potential side effects of medication.
Things you can do if you have PTSD
Sometimes, treatment alone is not sufficient if you do not make individual efforts on how you think or act. Following the treatment plan is a commitment you should adopt in your life. Sometimes it might take time until you see real results and feel better from various treatments, especially when it comes to mental health disorders. You might also benefit from reading about the condition to understand why this is happening to you. Learn how it disrupts the quality of your life and let it motivate you to stick to the treatment plan. Also, try to be healthy in all other aspects of your life and avoid self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. Avoid isolation and try to break the cycle every time you feel stressed or worried.
Weighted blankets for PTSD
As previously mentioned, sleeping problems are a big chapter of PTSD. Insomnia, nightmares, sleep-disordered breathing, periodic leg movements, and restless leg syndrome are only some of the way’s PTSD affects sleep. Some people might also experience constitutional symptoms, such as night sweats, or vocalisations. At the same time, lack of sleep leads to day-time agitation and an overly decreased quality of life. PTSD patients might benefit from weighted blankets, which have a calming and relaxing effect for all age groups. Weighted blankets stimulate the body by applying Deep Touch Pressure or Deep Touch Pressure Therapy (DTP). DTP is an evidence-based therapeutic approach that helps you produce hormones that make you feel and sleep better. Weighted blankets provide you with the sensation of being hugged or embraced, but also decrease high blood pressure, heart rate, and stress levels associated with various mental health disorders. As a sensory modulation treatment tool, weighted blankets help you relieve trauma-related stress during the night, which might be responsible for your nightmares or insomnia.
Five ways by which weighted blankets help in PTSD
- Adults Weighted blanket can provide you with Deep Touch Pressure or Deep Touch Pressure Therapy (DTP), and their effect resembles firm hugs, cuddling, squeezing compression, or swaddling.
- Weighted blankets for adults relieve stress and anxiety related to PTSD.
- Weighted blankets relieve physical symptoms related to PTSD.
- Weighted blankets can also improve your mood during the day, after a good night's sleep.
- Our Luxury Weighted blankets promote the ability to feel safe, reassured, and grounded in the world.
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