If you suffered an intense trauma, it’s not unusual to have symptoms that could make you believe you have post-traumatic stress disorder. Warning signs of both often mimic one another. Certain reactions are standard for each but knowing as much as possible is the first step in managing symptoms.
What Is PTSD?
“Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”
If you experience a trauma, it’s not unusual to have problems coping afterward, but symptoms go away eventually, and you get better. If symptoms worsen and never seem to end, disrupting your daily life, you may have PTSD.
Know The Symptoms
Symptoms of PTSD are worse than an emotional reaction to trauma. They may include:
- Flashbacks with physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
- Awful thoughts
- Avoiding places, events, or anything that’s a reminder of your experience
- Evading feelings or thoughts related to what happened
- You’re easily startled
- Feeling “on edge”
- Memory problems related to what happened
- Negative thoughts about yourself or the world
- Feeling guilty or responsible
- Lack of pleasure in enjoyable pastimes
You may have an intense emotional reaction after a traumatic experience, but that doesn’t mean you’ll develop PTSD. However, some factors can boost your risk of developing PTSD:
- Living through difficult situations
- Traumatic Injury
- Seeing someone else hurt
- Viewing a dead body
- Childhood trauma
- Horror, powerlessness, extreme fear
- Lack of social support
- Experiencing combat or violence
- Additional stress, like the loss of a loved one, your home, or unemployment
- A history of psychological problems or substance abuse
Facts About PTSD
According to the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, PTSD can be devastating if left untreated. Consider:
- Around eight of every 100 people will get PTSD at some point.
- “Women are more likely to experience PTSD — approximately 10 out of every 100 women compared to four out of 100 men.”
- About half of those with PTSD can recover within three months without treatment.
- Children can be diagnosed if long-term symptoms persist longer than a month.
What’s The Difference Between Normal Reactions To Trauma & PTSD?
New Directions for Women and the American Psychological Association say that ’trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event. Trauma can occur once, or on multiple occasions, and an individual can experience more than one type of trauma.’ PTSD is the mental health disorder that is associated when someone experiences or witnesses a trauma.”
Most people can recover from trauma on their own, and some do the same with symptoms of PTSD, but the severity of reactions sets the two apart. Many PTSD symptoms, even ones lasting for years, are driven by emotions.
Here are some common reactions to trauma:
- Cynicism about the future
- Feeling detached or not concerned about others
- Problems concentrating or making decisions
- You’re jumpy or easily startled by unexpected noises
- You’re constantly on guard for danger
- Bad dreams or upsetting memories
- Trouble at work or school
- You avoid people, places, and anything related to what happened
People who suffer trauma may also have other emotional and physical reactions, including:
- You have an upset stomach and problems eating
- Trouble sleeping and feeling very tired
- A throbbing heartbeat
- You have severe headaches just thinking about what happened
- You’re wracked by feelings of nervousness, helplessness, fear, and sadness
- Feeling stunned, numb, or unable to experience love or joy
- Being grouchy or having angry eruptions
- Getting easily offended or agitated
More long-term symptoms of trauma may lead to PTSD or other mental health problems, but in many cases can be managed with medical care.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Getting diagnosed with PTSD typically involves three things:
- A physical examination performed by a medical professional. The goal is to find if any medical problems are causing your symptoms. Your doctor will want background on any significant personal or family medical issues.
- A psychiatric assessment to talk about thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as potential triggers for your symptoms.
- A comparison of your symptoms to criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
If you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, your doctor will discuss treatment options. A treatment program may include ongoing psychotherapy, medicine, or ketamine therapy to control the symptoms.
If you suffered a trauma and the symptoms never seem to go away and interfere with daily life, you may be experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder. The good news is that emotional reactions to trauma, or more severe PTSD symptoms, can be managed. Ask your doctor about treatment options, including ketamine.