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Decoding post-traumatic stress disorder: Here's what you should know

Decoding post-traumatic stress disorder: Here's what you should know
Stress disorder can induce mental health problems in patients. © Shutterstock

If you experience any severe trauma, it can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is a mental health condition that can affect you physically too. Read on to know more.

Written by Jahnavi Sarma |Published : August 23, 2019 7:01 PM IST

All of us experience trauma at some point of time in our lives. The traumatic event could be due to natural calamities, war, accidents, sexual or physical assault and mental and even physical torture. These experiences can induce post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People suffering from this condition undergo intense distress, fear and feelings of helplessness. This happens whenever the memory of the traumatic incident grips them. This can cause sleep disorders and feelings of detachment or numbness. It has been found that women are more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Identifying post-traumatic stress disorder

A healthcare professional may often make a diagnosis on the basis of a clinical interview or a self-report assessment. But there is always the danger of bias in this. Hence, researchers from NYU Langone Health and NYU School of Medicine have tried to develop objective, measurable, physical markers of PTSD progression, much like laboratory values for medical conditions.

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They have developed a specially designed computer programme that can help diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder in war veterans just by analysing their voices. The journal Depression and Anxiety published this study. Researchers found that an artificial intelligence tool can distinguish with 89 per cent accuracy voices of people with or without PTSD.

In another study, researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine discovered a cutting-edge blood test that can accurately diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder in war veterans and other people. The journal Molecular Psychiatry published this study. For this purpose, they tracked more than 250 veterans in over 600 visits at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis. They did this to identify molecules in the blood that can help track stress intensity. They say that blood test can accurately identify people who are at risk of stress disorders or are already experiencing them.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is common in children too

According to research at the University of East Anglia, children are more likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder if they think their reaction to traumatic events is not normal. Most children recover well after a traumatic event. But some go on to develop this condition and it can stay with them for months, years or even into adulthood. Researchers say that children go down this route when they have trouble processing their trauma.

According to researchers, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can be a common reaction to trauma in children and teenagers. These can include symptoms like intrusive memories, nightmares and flashbacks.

Effect of childhood trauma in women

Sometimes, childhood trauma can cause post-traumatic stress disorder or increase the risk of suffering from this condition in adulthood. This is especially true for women. A study at the University of Missouri, developed a model that could help psychiatrists understand the far-reaching impacts of early trauma on women. This model describes how the body's main stress response system can be damaged by trauma or abuse during childhood. This can result in greater susceptibility to post-traumatic stress disorder later in life. This was published in Archives of Psychiatric Nursing.

Symptoms may vary from person to person

Some common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are recurrent and unwanted memories of the traumatic event. You may relive the event as if it were happening in the present. You may also get frequent nightmares about the traumatic event. At times, if something reminds you of the event, that can act as a trigger for severe emotional distress.

Sometimes, symptoms of this disorder may be more severe in some people than others. A study at the National Institute of Mental Health reveals distinct patterns for how the brain and body respond to danger and safety depending on the severity of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. The findings, published in Nature Neuroscience, can explain why symptoms can be severe for some people but not others.

Health risks of post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder can induce mental health problems in patients. Depression, sleep disorders, anxiety and phobias are very common. It can also cause sweating, tremors, dizziness, stomach problems, aches and pains and chest pain. It can lead to more infections due to a weakened immune system.

In severe cases, post-traumatic stress disorder can lead to arthritis, heart diseases, respiratory disorders, digestive issue and diabetes. It can also cause reproductive problems.

But according to researchers from the American Heart Association, post-traumatic stress disorder by itself does not explain the increased risk of cardiovascular disease in war veterans with this condition. Physical and psychiatric disorders and smoking may also contribute to these diseases. The stress condition only makes it worse. The Journal of the American Heart Association published this study.

During the course of the study, researchers examined whether one, or a combination of heart disease risk factors common in those with PTSD, can explain the association between post-traumatic stress disorder and cardiovascular disease. For this purpose, they reviewed electronic health records of 2,519 Veterans Affairs (VA) patients diagnosed with PTSD and 1,659 without PTSD. Participants were between the ages of 30 to70 years (87 per cent male and 60 per cent white) and they had no cardiovascular disease diagnoses for 12 months prior and were followed for at least three years.

It was seen that those diagnosed with PTSD were 41 per cent more likely to develop circulatory and heart disease than those without PTSD. Of course, smoking, depression, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, diabetes, hypertension, obesity and cholesterol levels were significantly more prevalent among patients with PTSD than those without.

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