Today, hundreds of thousands of service men and women and recent military veterans have seen combat. Many have been shot at, seen buddies killed, or witnessed death up close. These are the types of events that can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD afflicts almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, 10 percent of Gulf War ( Desert Storm) veterans, 20 percent of Iraq veterans and 11 percent of Afghanistan veterans.
War veterans brought PTSD to public attention; however, PTSD is also found among survivors of natural disasters, victims of crime and many others who have experienced traumatic events. PTSD affects 7.7 million Americans.
PTSD can occur at any age, is more likely to be developed in women than men, and there is some evidence that the potential for the disorder may run in families. PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse or other anxiety disorders, as well as sleep problems and jumpiness.
People with PTSD may become emotionally numb, especially in relation to people with whom they used to be close. They may lose interest in things they used to enjoy. PTSD symptoms seem to be worse if they are triggered deliberately by another person, as in a mugging or rape.
Most sufferers repeatedly relive trauma in their thoughts during the day and in nightmares when they sleep. These are called “flashbacks.“ Flashbacks may consist of images, sounds, smells or feelings.
They are often triggered buy ordinary occurrences, such as door slamming, a car backfiring or being in a place that looks like where the trauma took place. A person having flashbacks is likely to feel the emotions and physical feelings that occurred when the incident happened, despite no longer being in danger.
Not every traumatized person develops full blown or even minor PTSD.
Symptoms usually begin within three months of the incident, but occasionally may emerge years later. They must last more than a month to be considered PTSD. The condition varies from person to person. In some people, the condition becomes chronic. Wives, children and family members of military personnel can be traumatized by the visual sight of their loved one who received traumatic amputations.
Dr. Barbara Rothbaum, Professor in Psychiatry and Director of the Trauma and Anxiety Program at Emory University School of Medicine, believes current research is leading to better treatment of PTSD and may one day help prevent it. She notes that the Institute of Medicine recently reported that only exposure treatment, a type of therapy in which PTSD patients confront their traumatic memories through talking, has sufficient evidence to recommend it.
With funding from National Institute of Mental Health, she is studying how D-cycloserine, an antibiotic, affects how Iraq War veterans experience fear.
“We know how fear is turned on and off, where in the brain it occurs and what drugs facilitate or inhibit it. D-cycloserine has been shown to reduce fear and make exposure therapy go faster.“
Also, with NIMH support, Dr. Rothbaum is beginning to look at ways to change traumatic memories before they are consolidated in the brain, and perhaps prevent PTSD altogether.
Questions to ask your health care professional are: How do I know I have PTSD? If so, can I be cured? What treatments are available? Are there things to make my PTSD worse? and If I have a blow to the head, is there a chance I could have PTSD or even mild traumatic brain injury (TBI)? How can I tell ?
Speak to you again next week.