More than 70 percent of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their life. Living through a distressing situation can cause common reactions in people that usually go away over time, including fear, shock, anger, nervousness, sadness, and possibly guilt. However, for 7.7 million American adults in a given year, these feelings don’t go away, and even intensify, affecting their quality of life and causing PTSD.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can develop after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or stressful event in which serious harm occurred or was threatened, causing intense fear, helplessness or horror. It can affect people of any age, as well families of victims, emergency personnel and rescue workers.
For most people, symptoms of PTSD usually begin within three months of the event, but can take many years. To help identify the correct disorder and treatment plan, doctors won’t diagnose PTSD until at least one month has passed since the traumatic event.
Identifying the symptoms and getting a proper diagnosis is critical to getting the right treatment, and possibly reducing the severity of the symptoms. Treating PTSD can reduce the emotional and physical symptoms, improve daily functioning, and increase coping skills in dealing with the event that triggered the PTSD.
Since the severity of PTSD symptoms can differ between patients, there are several treatment options available, including psychotherapy, medication, alternative treatments, or a combination of these. The use of one or more of these approaches can help a person to gain control of the lasting fear after a traumatic event
Doctors use medications to treat PTSD, as well as well control the feelings of anxiety. There are several types of medications that can be used:
• Antidepressants. These medications can help symptoms of depression and anxiety. They can also help improve sleep problems and concentration. The selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil) are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for PTSD treatment.
• Anti-anxiety medications. These drugs also can improve feelings of anxiety and stress for a short time to relieve severe anxiety and related problems. Because these medications have the potential for abuse, they are not usually taken long term.
• Prazosin. If symptoms include insomnia or recurrent nightmares, a drug called Prazosin (Minipress) may help. Although not specifically FDA-approved for PTSD treatment, Prazosin may reduce or suppress nightmares in many people with PTSD.
Always communicate with health care professionals about any side effects or problems with medications. It may be necessary to try more than one or a combination of medications, or the doctor may need to adjust dosages or the medication schedule before finding the right fit.
Psychotherapy for PTSD involves helping the person learn skills to manage symptoms and develop ways of coping. Another goal of therapy is to teach the person and his or her family about the disorder, and help the person work through the fears associated with the traumatic event. Some types of psychotherapy used to treat people with PTSD, include:
• Cognitive behavioral therapy involves learning to recognize and change thought patterns that lead to troublesome emotions, feelings, and behavior.
• Exposure therapy a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that involves having the person re-live the traumatic experience, or exposing the person to objects or situations that cause anxiety. This is done in a well-controlled and safe environment. Exposure therapy helps the person confront the fear and gradually become more comfortable with situations that are frightening and cause anxiety. This has been very successful at treating PTSD.
• Psychodynamic therapy focuses on helping the person examine personal values and the emotional conflicts caused by the traumatic event.
• Family therapy may be useful because the behavior of the person with PTSD can have an effect on other family members.
• Group therapy may be helpful by allowing the person to share thoughts, fears, and feelings with other people who have experienced traumatic events.
• Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a complex form of psychotherapy that was initially designed to alleviate distress associated with traumatic memories and is now also used to treat phobias.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy
This is a revolutionary new treatment for people who suffer from long-term, drug-resistant depression. The FDA-approved TMS therapy is a drug-free, non-invasive treatment done in a physician’s office.
By using a MRI-strength magnetic field to stimulate the front part of the brain, the core symptoms of major depression can be painlessly alleviated with no side effects. Some people notice temporary improvement as early as the first or second week as existing neural circuits are stimulated. Repeated treatment over several weeks gradually encourages new circuits to form, making depression relief self-sustaining for many patients
Of the patients that have undergone the therapy, 1 in 2 patients improve significantly, and 1 in 3 patients become completely free of depression symptoms.
Recovering from PTSD is an ongoing process. While symptoms of PTSD rarely disappear completely, treatment can help sufferers learn to cope more effectively, lead to fewer and less intense symptoms, and better manage feelings related to the traumatic event.