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Food for Thought: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

| June 9, 2021 12:00 AM

As the name implies, post traumatic stress disorder occurs only after (post) an extremely stressful event (trauma). The more severe the trauma and the longer the person is exposed to it, the greater the likelihood of developing PTSD.

Post traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires, homicides, suicides, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults like rape or beatings. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person's daily life.

How common is PTSD?

About 3.6 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 to 54 (5.2 million people) have PTSD during the course of a given year. The traumatic events most often associated with PTSD for men are rape, combat exposure, childhood neglect, and childhood physical abuse. The most traumatic events for women are rape, sexual molestation, physical attack, being threatened with a weapon, and childhood physical abuse. Children can also suffer from PTSD the same ways adults can.

PTSD is associated with a number of distinctive neurobiological and physiological changes. Psychophysiological alterations associated with PTSD include hyper-arousal of the sympathetic nervous system, increased sensitivity of the startle reflex, and sleep abnormalities. People with PTSD tend to have abnormal levels of key hormones involved in the body's response to stress. Some studies have shown that cortisol levels in those with PTSD are lower than normal, and epinephrine and norepinephrine levels are higher than normal. People with PTSD also continue to produce higher than normal levels of natural opiates after the trauma has passed.

PTSD is marked by clear psychological changes as well as biological symptoms. It is complicated by the fact it frequently occurs in conjunction with related disorders such as depression, substance abuse, problems of memory and cognition, and other problems of physical and mental health. The disorder is also associated with impairment of the person's ability to function in social or family life, including occupational instability, marital problems and divorces, family discord, and difficulties in parenting.

Biological factors often include: headaches, gastrointestinal complaints, immune system problems, dizziness, chest pain, and discomfort in other parts of the body. Often, not aware of a patient’s history, medical doctors treat the symptoms without being aware that they stem from PTSD.

If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD it is important they seek help by trained professionals ( medical doctors and psychotherapists) who are familiar with treatment. Usually PTSD is treated by a variety of forms of psychotherapy and drug therapy.

Dr. Leta A. Livoti Ph.D is a psychotherapist in Thompson Falls. She can be contacted at 827-0700.