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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Everyone has experienced a dangerous situation for their safety or that of a loved one, such as narrowly avoiding a car accident. In such a situation, a person may experience a high level of anxiety, characterized by a feeling of intense fear. This fear is accompanied by a strong physical reaction due to the secretion of adrenaline, the hormone that enables the body to react quickly to danger. Fear and the physical reaction that accompanies it are part of a natural defense mechanism designed to ensure survival. These reactions are therefore normal and usually go away a few hours after the event.

However, in people with post-traumatic stress disorder, these reactions do not go away completely. The person continues to relive them with the same intensity as the first time, in the form of dreams or flashbacks. Flashbacks are mental images that bring the traumatic situation back to the person. The person may also relive these reactions when exposed to a situation similar to the one that caused the trauma.

The affected person can then try to avoid situations or conditions that remind them of the trauma. The need to avoid any threatening situation can have serious consequences on personal, family and social activities.


Symptoms

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder usually start within the first 3 months after a trauma. However, sometimes it can take several months or even years for symptoms to appear.

The characteristic signs of post-traumatic stress disorder are:

  • A feeling of intense fear, horror and helplessness accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:

    • Heart palpitations (heart beating abnormally fast)
    • Rapid breathing
    • Tremors
    • Chills
    • Excessive sweating
    • Flashbacks

  • Thoughts that force themselves into the mind and run out of control. Because of these thoughts, the affected person experiences distress, which manifests as anxiety and depression

  • Difficulty feeling certain emotions, for example tenderness and sexual desire
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty getting to sleep
  • A need to be on constant alert, ready to respond


When to consult

Sleep disturbances are often the first reason people with post-traumatic stress disorder seek medical help.

Do not wait until you are no longer able to do your usual activities to consult. If you have symptoms, you can consult certain organizations and associations working in the field of anxiety disorders. These offer information, help and support.

However, see your family doctor or other healthcare professional if you experience any of the following:


  • You live in distress
  • You are constantly on alert, and this situation has been going on for several weeks
  • You relive the traumatic situation in your dreams or as a flashback
  • You avoid situations that might remind you of your trauma.

A health care professional will be able to assess whether it is post-traumatic stress disorder or another health problem. He will suggest a treatment plan tailored to your needs.


Treatments

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a treatable illness. There are recognized treatments to treat it. Treatments allow people with the disease to regain control over their lives and daily activities. The earlier the sufferer consults, the better their chances of recovery.

In the majority of cases, post-traumatic stress disorder is effectively treated with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of these 2 treatments.

Experts in post-traumatic stress disorder generally recommend one of the following 3 therapies:

Cognitive behavioral therapy, which aims to modify the person's problematic thoughts and behaviors and replace them with thoughts and reactions appropriate to reality. It helps to understand the origin of the problem and to find solutions.

Hypnosis.

The EMDR technique (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). This technique combines the movements of the person's eyes with mental images that remind them of the traumatic experience. It aims to decrease the person's sensitivity to traumatic images and memories.


Medicines

Different drugs can be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, including antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs.

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