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What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

written by: hchristina11 • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 3/11/2011

For the person trying to answer, "What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?" The diagnostic criteria presented in this article can lead to a more thorough understanding.

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    What is post traumatic stress disorder? It is a serious anxiety disorder that was first classified in 1980. The condition is diagnosed by a doctor after a person lives through a frightening or life-threatening event. Some events that can lead to PTSD include automobile or other transportation accidents, violent crimes, combat, and serious natural disasters. People who live through these types of events will often times be forced to relive the emotional turmoil and distress in dreams, flashbacks, and disturbing memories. This can lead to a continuous state of hyperarousal, which becomes debilitating.

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    Who is at Risk?

    Some people are at a higher risk for developing PTSD after a traumatic event. People who have experienced a multitude of traumatic experiences are more at risk, as are people who are exposed to the event for an extended period of time. Individuals with PTSD display symptoms on a spectrum. Some victims of continuous sexual abuse, for example, can develop complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) which can have even more complicated and long-lasting deleterious effects than the less severe form of the illness. Dr. Dryden Edwards says that approximately 7-8% of the US population will develop and suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives.

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    Battle Diagnosis History

    Many soldiers coming home from battle in the last decade have some degree of PTSD that needs to be treated professionally. While the diagnosis of PTSD for soldiers was only recently introduced, similar conditions have been recognized throughout history. In the American Civil War, a soldier returning from the battlefield who displayed symptoms of having been impacted by combat was said to have a “soldier’s heart.” Likewise, in World War I and World War II, the condition was labeled “combat fatigue” and a “gross stress reaction”, respectively. In the more recent Gulf Wars, some soldiers are said to have “shell shock.” Most of these soldiers have been later diagnosed as having PTSD .

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    Diagnostic Criteria

    For PTSD to be clinically diagnosed, three conditions need to be present. The first condition is a recurrent re-experience of the original traumatic event, often times in dreams or vivid flashes while the person is awake. The second condition is an avoidance of people, places, or other triggers that cause hyperarousal related to the event. This avoidance is usually to the extent of a phobia. The third diagnostic condition is having chronic physical signs of the hyperarousal, which can include chronic sleep disturbances, memory blackouts, and trouble concentrating.

    Emotional numbing is another common symptom recognized in people with PTSD. Sometimes, the condition can be misdiagnosed as depression because the patient will often lose interest in everyday activities, or in the case of children, refuse to play with others and become withdrawn. A person with major depression, however, does not usually exhibit the symptoms of hyperarousal that are associated with PTSD. Even with the strict diagnostic criteria, PTSD is continuing to rise in populations around the world. Asking the question, "What is post traumatic stress disorder?", can help those at risk to decide when it is appropriate to seek help.

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    Resources

    Medicine Net: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - http://www.medicinenet.com/posttraumatic_stress_disorder/article.htm

    National Institute of Mental Health: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-easy-to-read/index.shtml