What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after someone experiences a traumatic event, such as combat exposure, sexual or physical abuse, serious accidents, natural disasters, or sexual or physical assault.  During a traumatic event, the individual believes his/her or others’ lives are in danger and may experience fear or loss of control.  Most people who live through a trauma experience symptoms in the aftermath of the event, but only some will develop PTSD over time.  Whether or not one gets PTSD can depend on the intensity of the trauma, proximity to the event, the strength of one’s emotional reaction during the trauma, and how much support and help one received after the event. Luckily, there are cognitive behavioral therapies that can help treat PTSD and restore the individual to his/her pre-trauma level of functioning.

What are the signs/symptoms of PTSD?


• Reliving or re-experiencing the event in the form of upsetting thoughts, nightmares, or flashbacks
• Avoiding situations that remind you of the event, such as talking about the event or going to places that trigger similar emotions (e.g., helplessness, lack of control, anxiety)
• Negative changes in feelings (e.g., guilt, shame) and ways of thinking about other people or the safety of the world around you
• Feeling on edge, hypervigilant, jumpy, or keyed up

If you are concerned about the severity of your PTSD symptoms, please click here

What treatments are available for PTSD?

PTSD can be treated with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Typically, therapy is the best intervention for PTSD, either alone or in combination with medication. Research suggests that medication alone is unlikely to be as clinically effective as trauma-focused psychotherapy, and thus should be considered a second-line treatment. 

Psychotherapy - There are two specific types of treatment that are recommended for PTSD.  Prolonged exposure (PE) and cognitive processing therapy (CPT), are the gold-standard treatments for PTSD and both are types of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). In general, CBT helps individuals in how they react, think about and behave in response to anxiety provoking situations which helps in reducing the anxiety related to the traumatic event.  Prolonged exposure therapy works by helping individuals break the habit of avoidance, which is thought to maintain PTSD.  Cognitive processing therapy works by targeting unhelpful thoughts that have developed in response to the trauma.  Both treatments are evidence-based, meaning they have research supporting their efficacy in the treatment of PTSD.

Medication - Doctors also may prescribe medication to help treat PTSD. Typically, they will prescribe a medication that is in the “antidepressant” class of medications. Antidepressants are used to treat depression, but they also are helpful for anxiety and traumatic stress disorders. Doctors might also use medications that can help with nightmares or sleep difficulties, which are common among individuals with PTSD.  Sometimes, individuals prefer medication because it takes less time and effort than therapy.  However, medications may take several weeks to start working and some individuals may experience side effects.  

Want to learn more about PTSD?

Contact us to hear more about current studies we are conducting at: (617) 726-1579 or mghvets@mgh.harvard.edu

Check out our resources page here for vidoes and articles about PTSD

Visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website: https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd

Visit the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies website: http://www.abct.org/Information/?m=mInformation&fa=fs_PTSD

Visit the NIMH website: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

Visit the National Center for PTSD within the US Department of Veterans Affairs: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/index.asp

 


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Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders & Complicated Grief Program

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Phone: 1-866-44-WORRY

email: anxietystudy@partners.org

 

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