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A Guide to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a type of anxiety disorder brought on by exposure to extremely traumatic events deemed beyond normal human experience. These events might include war, criminal violence, physical or sexual abuse, accidents, natural disasters, or other events involving horror, helplessness, or extreme fear. These events are either personally experienced or witnessed by the patient. The disorder affects people of any age, race, gender, or nationality. In the U.S., statistical information shows women are at a higher risk of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than men. Residents of nations victimized by war or natural disasters have a higher rate of PTSD than the U.S.

Characteristic symptoms of PTSD include persistent reexperiencing of the traumatic event, avoidance of similar stimuli, emotional numbing, or increased emotional arousal, all persisting for more than a month. Symptoms generally appear within the first three months after the event, although cases have been reported where symptoms appeared much later. The horrific nature of the event which triggers PTSD often leaves sufferers feeling deep guilt for surving an event others did not, or that they did not do more to stop or prevent the event. In cases of accidents, violent crime, or death, the fear associated with the event may leave PTSD victims with paranoia-like thoughts of the event reoccurring.

Since its first appearance in the DSM-III in 1980, many studies have been conducted on PTSD. Vietnam veterans suffering from what was then deemed shell shock or battle fatigue propelled the American Psychiatric Association to create the formal diagnosis. While the condition is chiefly noted as affecting veterans of military combat, studies have shown that witnesses of sudden violent death and horrific crime survivors have a higher incidence of PTSD. Professionals often disagree on the number one trigger for PTSD. A Harvard Science study reported that the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one was the biggest cause of PTSD. However, the Surgeon General of the United States has reported that the women who are the victims of violent crimes have the highest rate of PTSD.

According to the Surgeon General, of those individuals experiencing extreme traumatic events, nine percent develop PTSD. Approximately 50% of those cases will return to a normal mental health state in less than a year. After one year, women were twice as likely to continue with symptoms of traumatic stress. For children suffering from PTSD, studies have shown that development slows 20-30% depending on the severity of the event and subsequent therapeutic and psychological treatment.

The following information provides further facts and resources for patients and their family members who are coping with PTSD, as well as medical professionals assisting with the care and treatment of PTSD patients.

PTSD Facts

PTSD Symptoms and Diagnosis

PTSD Treatment and Prevention

PTSD Support

PTSD and Children

PTSD and Veterans

PTSD and Women

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