What is PTSD?
We’ve all heard the reports of soldiers and/or veterans coming back from active duty suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but what does that entail? PTSD can occur after someone has been through a traumatic or life-threatening event. This could include combat exposure, physical or sexual abuse/assault, serious accidents (i.e. vehicular accidents), or natural disasters (i.e. flood, earthquake, fire, tornado).
Diagnostic criteria for PTSD includes previous exposure to a traumatic event and symptoms from each of the following four categories lasting longer than one month and resulting in clinically significant distress or impairment.
Four symptom types of PTSD from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)-IV:
- Re-experiencing: Flashbacks of the event in memories or dreams.
- Avoidance: Avoiding situations or people that trigger memories of the event as well as avoiding talking or thinking about the event.
- Numbing: Difficulty expressing feelings or disinterest in previously enjoyed activities.
- Hyperarousal: Feeling anxious, nervous, jittery, or always being on the alert for danger.
Neuroendoimmune correlations with PTSD
Alyson Betcher, one of our resident experts in psychiatric issues, recently looked into neuroendoimmune correlations with PTSD. The signs and symptoms of PTSD seem to reflect a persistent and abnormal adaptation of neurobiological systems to a traumatic experience. Research has generally assumed these changes occur as a result of trauma; however, more recently, researchers have acknowledged that these could be pre-existing and are simply “activated” by trauma. There are several biochemical abnormalities correlated with PTSD that have been identified in the literature.
Imbalances in adrenal hormones and neurotransmitters are correlated with and can contribute to PTSD symptoms. Chronic low-level inflammation has also been associated with PTSD. Effective therapy for PTSD should include interventions that address individual imbalances as part of a comprehensive therapeutic approach.