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How Does Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Affect Soldiers

written by: kmjones • edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • updated: 12/9/2010

Nicknamed the 'invisible war wound', Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, affects an estimated one in five soldiers returning from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let's take a look at how post traumatic stress disorder affects soldiers and their mental and physical health.

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    PTSD In Context

    Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder and has become a growing problem for the military community. Although Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was not recognized as a medical illness until 1980, it is by no means a modern phenomenon. Known as “soldier's heart" during the American Civil War and “combat fatigue" during World War One, this anxiety disorder has been a consistent feature of warfare, both in the past and the present. According to the National Center for PTSD, as many as 10 percent of Gulf War veterans and 30 percent of Vietnam veterans developed PTSD as a result of their combat experiences.

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    Understanding PTSD

    Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental illness which can develop after experiencing a traumatic event. A 2003 study into the combat experiences of soldiers and marines in Iraq and Afghanistan has highlighted several examples of combat trauma which are responsible for causing PTSD. These include being shot at, being ambushed, knowing somebody who has been seriously injured or died and seeing dead bodies. So how does PTSD affect soldiers?

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    Emotional Impact

    Witnessing such a traumatic event during combat can have a serious impact on a soldier's emotional state. According to the National Center for PTSD, the most common emotional reaction to combat trauma is anger. This often leads to increased irritability, aggressive behavior, hostility to and mistrust of other people. This can have a devastating impact on a soldier's home life as it often causes existing relationships with friends and family to break down.

    Other emotional problems can include:

    • Depression
    • Avoidance
    • Lack of Interest
    • Hopelessness
    • Negativity
    • Anxiety
    • Recurring memories of the traumatic event
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    Physical Impact

    How does PTSD affect soldiers physically? Increased arousal, which occurs when a soldier is reminded of the traumatic event, is responsible for many of the physical symptoms of PTSD. These can include palpitations, sweating, nausea, headaches, muscle tension and increased blood pressure. Difficulties in getting to or staying asleep are also common responses to this mental illness.

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    Substance Use

    In some cases, soldiers who have experienced a traumatic effect will turn to alcohol, drugs, or tobacco in an attempt to self-medicate. Substance abuse is highly damaging to the body and can create the additional problem of alcohol or drug addiction. Furthermore, substance use can compound the emotional and physical aspects of PTSD, like anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances.

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    Living with PTSD

    In reality, how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affects soldiers can vary from case to case. The number and intensity of symptoms, the impact on their relationships and the time it takes to recover from PTSD will vary from soldier to soldier. What is certain, however, is that PTSD is a complex disorder which requires knowledge and understanding