Causes & Effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Posttraumatic stress disorder can occur as the result of experiencing, witnessing, or learning about a traumatic event. Characterized by extreme emotional distress and a drastic decrease in normal functioning, posttraumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, is comprised of debilitating symptoms that can make day-to-day life ripe with obstacles. Flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts often impede a person from doing the most mundane of tasks, like getting the mail or going shopping. Furthermore, the constant state of heightened alertness that comes with PTSD can often lead an individual to feel as though danger or harm is inevitable.

Examples of traumatic events that can trigger the onset of posttraumatic stress disorder are accidents, natural or manmade disasters, deployment, or the sudden loss of a loved one or friend. Sometimes occurring shortly after the event but lasting long after the event first took place, the symptoms of PTSD often require an individual to seek treatment in restoring functioning. Fortunately, help is out there and many people have been able to recover from this devastating mental health condition.

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Statistics

Research has found that over five million adults experience symptoms associated with PTSD. Additionally, similar studies have estimated that 4% of all children between the ages of 13 and 17 years old will receive a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder following some kind of trauma. A mental health condition that does not discriminate based on age, it is believed that PTSD will affect 7%to 8% of the total population at some point in life.

Causes and Risk Factors for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Experts believe that there are a number of contributing factors that could make a person more susceptible to developing symptoms of PTSD. Consider the following summations when trying to understand the causes and risk factors for posttraumatic stress disorder:

Genetic: Possessing a family history including mental illness or illnesses can increase a person’s likelihood of developing PTSD. Especially in those with relatives that have an anxiety disorder, the chances of showing signs and symptoms of PTSD following a traumatic event are higher.

Physical: Neuroimaging has concluded that those with posttraumatic stress disorder often have lower levels of dopamine and serotonin, as well as structural differences in the brain when compared to individuals without PTSD. These chemical imbalances and physical alterations could explain why those with PTSD respond to trauma in the manner in which they do.

Environmental: Constant exposure to trauma could lead to the development of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms. Violence, chronic stress, and a history of abuse or assault are also places individuals at an increased risk due to the fact that these events test a person’s ability to cope effectively.

Risk Factors:

  • Preexisting mental health disorder
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of abuse or other traumas
  • Being female
  • Poor coping skills
  • Lack of support system

Signs and Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Depending on the trauma that occurred, the level of support around the person suffering, and the age of the sufferer, the signs and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder can be apparent in the following ways:

Re-experiencing symptoms:

  • Intrusive memories about the trauma
  • Nightmares about the trauma
  • Flashbacks that seem like the trauma is reoccurring
  • Sweating, increased heart rate, or labored breathing when thinking about the trauma

Avoidance symptoms:

  • Depersonalization
  • Decreased interest in things or activities once enjoyed
  • Avoiding people, places, or situations reminiscent of the trauma
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Inability to remember details about the trauma

Hyperarousal symptoms:

  • Anxiety about imminent danger or harm
  • Angry outbursts
  • Increased irritability
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Increased agitation
  • Inability to sleep
  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling on edge
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Untreated posttraumatic stress disorder can render a number of effects that can be short or long-term. Examples of possible effects can include:

  • Loss of employment
  • Demise of marriage or partnership
  • Decrease in occupation or academic functioning
  • Chronic pain
  • Disordered eating patterns
  • Substance abuse or addiction
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

There are a number of symptoms associated with PTSD that are synonymous with other mental illnesses. Like other mental health conditions, posttraumatic stress disorder can occur alongside other mental illnesses due to the overlap of symptoms. Furthermore, PTSD can trigger the onset of other mental health disorders. Listed below are possible co-occurring disorders:

  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Specific phobias
  • Depressive disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Non-suicidal self-injury
  • Suicidal ideation
24-hour patient services help line: (520) 214-0211 Email Us