What Are The Effects Of PTSD?

Updated October 4, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Recognize Your PTSD Triggers?

Veterans of war, survivors of domestic abuse, and millions of others who have experienced traumatic events struggle in their daily lives because of PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD images often stick with the individual because of the trauma that occurred. This article will discuss the signs and symptoms of PTSD, as well as how it can be helped.

Categorizing Symptoms Of PTSD

In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, a patient must have exhibited a specific set of criteria for one month or longer. These are the minimum amount of signs that a patient must have: [1]

  • 1 type of re-experiencing symptom
  • 1 type of avoidance symptom
  • 2 types of arousal and reactivity symptoms
  • 2 types of cognition and mood symptoms

Within these four categories or clusters, there are multiple possible symptoms that a person can display and they must demonstrate that they are a hindrance to their well-being, such as limiting their ability to work, or form relationships.

The remainder of this article will cover each of these and go over the possible signs and effects of PTSD to give you more context about them. Recognizing the other symptoms that fit within these key groups can lead to formal diagnosis and treatment for those in need.

Re-Experiencing Symptoms of PTSD

The "re-experiencing" group of symptoms contains characteristics that are essentially what people think of when they hear about the condition. Flashbacks and nightmares are classic examples of re-experiencing in post-traumatic stress disorder.

Flashbacks are referred to as the intrusive recollection of past traumatic events and re-experiencing them in the present. They are separate from one's normal consciousness and are involuntary and uncontrollable and are frequently described as powerful reenactments. [2]

One of the aspects that separate flashbacks in PTSD from ones in other conditions like depression is the present-nature or "nowness" of the sensations. [2] These thoughts, images, and memories from the past can feel realistic and seem as if they are actually happening at that moment.

These past events can be triggered by various stimuli; for example, certain words, sounds, and smells can cause traumatic events to resurface. These images can be vivid and can cause great distress to the person. However, they can also be fragmented as well, and some individuals with PTSD might have some difficulties remembering everything about their trauma.

While many patients may have flashbacks while they are awake, there are others who relive their past experiences through nightmares. Some can also struggle with PTSD during all hours of the day.

Bad dreams can occur over and over and significantly reduce one's sleep quality, leading to other health problems as well as exacerbating other psychiatric conditions and making the nightmares more intense and more frequent. [3] Since flashbacks and nightmares are very distressing, they can also result in powerful psychological and physiological responses to the perceived event. These responses may also resemble the same ones that occurred when the traumatic event actually took place. [4]

Avoidance Symptoms

Recognize Your PTSD Triggers?

It is very common and natural for people living with PTSD to want to stay away from people or other situations that may remind them of past trauma.

Avoidance symptoms are believed to be the most harmful to psychological functioning, and they may be able to predict further development of the disorder. It is hypothesized that this is because these symptoms are connected to fear-associated learning, such as [5]:

  • Greater acquisition of fear
  • Overgeneralization of conditioning
  • Impaired inhibitory learning
  • Impaired extinction

Extinction is a term in psychology that refers to the fading of a conditioned or trained response, such as fear, by not reinforcing the behaviors associated with it. Essentially, when someone or something stops performing a certain conditioned action, it will gradually become deconditioned.

Therefore, if extinction is impaired. This means that the conditioned response persists and is potentially made stronger.

For example, those who continue to avoid specific triggers may experience greater fear towards them. Staying away from certain objects might prevent flashbacks; however, it is reinforcing the idea that they are dangerous and consequently amplifies the fear.

By continuing to stay away from triggers, the person does not give themselves a chance to desensitize themselves to the stimuli, which makes extinction weaker and strengthens the learned response.

Arousal And Reactivity Symptoms

Hyperarousal is another key trait of PTSD that can be chronic and can severely limit a person's quality of life and ability to function. These set of symptoms can include:

  • Irritability
  • Recklessness
  • Hypervigilance
  • Sleep disturbances
  • A tendency to get easily startled

These effects of PTSD can create sleep disturbances for people as well as make it difficult to concentrate, affecting their day-to-day activities. To others, the individual with PTSD might seem constantly stressed out or appear angry. [1]

It is very common and natural for people living with PTSD to want to stay away from people or other situations that may remind them of past trauma.

Avoidance symptoms are believed to be the most harmful to psychological functioning, and they may be able to predict further development of the disorder. It is hypothesized that this is because these symptoms are connected to fear-associated learning, such as [5]:

  • Greater acquisition of fear
  • Overgeneralization of conditioning
  • Impaired inhibitory learning
  • Impaired extinction

Extinction is a term in psychology that refers to the fading of a conditioned or trained response, such as fear, by not reinforcing the behaviors associated with it. Essentially, when someone or something stops performing a certain conditioned action, it will gradually become deconditioned.

Therefore, if extinction is impaired. This means that the conditioned response persists and is potentially made stronger.

For example, those who continue to avoid specific triggers may experience greater fear towards them. Staying away from certain objects might prevent flashbacks; however, it is reinforcing the idea that they are dangerous and consequently amplifies the fear.

By continuing to stay away from triggers, the person does not give themselves a chance to desensitize themselves to the stimuli, which makes extinction weaker and strengthens the learned response.

Arousal And Reactivity Symptoms

Hyperarousal is another key trait of PTSD that can be chronic and can severely limit a person's quality of life and ability to function. These set of symptoms can include:

  • Irritability
  • Recklessness
  • Hypervigilance
  • Sleep disturbances
  • A tendency to get easily startled

These effects of PTSD can create sleep disturbances for people as well as make it difficult to concentrate, affecting their day-to-day activities. To others, the individual with PTSD might seem constantly stressed out or appear angry. [1]

Some people with PTSD might have symptoms related to other people and not just themselves; individuals might believe that no one else can be trusted and feel estranged from the ones that they care about. [7]

They can also find that they do not enjoy the same activities that they used to, and no longer participate in them, which is another trait often found in major depression.

Regarding cognitive abilities, one of the primary areas that PTSD can affect one's memory, which can cause individuals to have trouble fully recalling the troubling event(s) that happened. They might also be prone to having false memories when being presented with concepts that are associated with their trauma. [8] Additionally, studies involving war veterans have demonstrated that PTSD can also impair a person's sustained attention as well as initial learning, leading to decreased intellectual functioning. [9]

Cognition and mood effects of PTSD can be persistent and reflect a trauma survivor's emotional well-being. They might feel as if nothing can ever change and improve, creating perpetual unhappiness. However, treatment is available, and things can get better for those with PTSD.

Conclusion

Although it can be distressing and can seriously alter one's life in a negative way, there are various treatments that can address these effects of PTSD. However, a combination of different things may be required - one type of medication may not be effective for a group of symptoms as another one.

For example, SSRIs, which is short for a class of antidepressant drugs called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, have been studied extensively and have been found to provide relief for re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyperarousal symptoms, and of course, depressive moods. [10]

For nightmares and other sleep disorders related to PTSD, clinical trials have demonstrated that Prazosin, which is ordinarily used to treat high blood pressure, can be effective in treating sleep disruptions. Although it is currently not FDA-approved for PTSD, it is currently recommended as the first-line treatment for that particular symptom. [4] [10]

Lastly, psychotherapy can be a valuable tool for treating the emotional side of PTSD and teach people new ways to cope. If you or a loved one has been showing signs of the effects of PTSD, such as depression, licensed counselors and therapists are available online to help you at BetterHelp.com.

PTSD can be complex, but it can be helped. By visiting your primary doctor or a psychiatrist, you can find the medication that you need to make living easier, while therapy can give you an outlet to express how you feel. By discussing your symptoms with someone who understands PTSD and other mental disorders and learning about your condition, you will be on the right path to recovery.

References

  1. National Institute of Mental Health. (2019, May). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved June 8, 2019, fromhttps://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml
  2. Brewin, C. R. (2015). Re-experiencing traumatic events in PTSD: New avenues in research on intrusive memories and flashbacks. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 6(1), 27180. doi:10.3402/ejpt.v6.27180
  3. Aurora, R. N., Zak, R. S., Auerbach, S. H., Casey, K. R., Chowdhuri, S., Karripot, A., . . . Morgenthaler, T. I. (2010). Best Practice Guide for the Treatment of Nightmare Disorder in Adults. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 6(4). Retrieved fromhttps://aasm.org/resources/bestpracticeguides/nightmaredisorder.pdf.
  4. Graham, R. L. (2012). PTSD nightmares: Prazosin and atypical antipsychotics. Current Psychiatry, 11(6), 59-67. Retrieved from https://www.mdedge.com/psychiatry/article/64744/ptsd/ptsd-nightmares-prazosin-and-atypical-antipsychotics.
  5. Sripada, R. K., Garfinkel, S. N., & Liberzon, I. (2013). Avoidant symptoms in PTSD predict fear circuit activation during multimodal fear extinction. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00672

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