If you’re a patient in recovery from post-traumatic stress injury — or PTSD as it’s more commonly called — you obviously know what it is. You live with it every day! But, clinically speaking, how is it characterized?
The diagnosis — PTSD — is defined as: “A pathological anxiety that usually occurs after an individual experiences or witnesses’ severe trauma that constitutes a threat to the physical integrity or life of the individual or of another person.”
Those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder often report similar symptoms, regardless of the traumatic event. Common symptoms (that can be highly disruptive in relationships) include persistent avoidance of people, places, and things that cause the individual significant distress; difficulty experiencing a normal spectrum of emotions; lowered expectations of an individual's ability to live a long and fulfilling life. Sufferers also frequently experience difficulty sleeping or insomnia; irritability and anger; poor concentration; exaggerated responses (hypervigilance) to ordinary events.
The most common reported symptoms include:
PTSD patients often have disruptive memory processing (enhanced fear learning, impaired fear memory extinction and a propensity to encode false memories), perceptual priming and recall memory of negative stimuli, which in some situations could be advantageous, but comes at the expense of processing otherwise neutral information.
It’s also not unusual for sufferers to experience a number of physical health effects including drug or alcohol abuse, chronic pain, asthma, hypertension, heart diseases, obesity. PTSD is often accompanied by other disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, substance use disorder.
Symptoms generally develop within six months of the traumatic event (although a significant delay in onset is not uncommon). When symptoms persist for more than three months, the condition is considered Chronic PTSD. Following a traumatic event, it’s common for victims to experience any (or all) of these symptoms. However, the symptoms only meet the criteria of PTSD if the symptoms persist for more than more than three months.
If you have PTSD, you’re definitely not alone. The rate among populations exposed to military combat is estimated to be as high as 30%. The Department of Veteran Affairs reports 11-20% of veterans from the Iraq War, 10% from the Persian Gulf War, and 30% from Vietnam are afflicted with PTSD. Each year, PTSD affects 5.2 million people in the United States.
Beyond those who’ve experienced combat, in the U.S., at least 3.5% of the population currently meets the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. The number may actually be as much as three times this figure (or more), as most people suffering go undiagnosed (or misdiagnosed). Incredibly, 9% of Americans will experience PTSD symptoms in their lifetime.
While the reasons for such high rates remain a mystery (or explanations controversial), the U.S. has one of the highest rates of PTSD in the world. Reported figures put the rate at 0.4-1.0% of the global population. In part, the lower numbers may have to do with less awareness or stigmatization.