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What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

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Updated September 07, 2006

Question: What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Answer: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder that a person may develop after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying, tragic or life-threatening event or situation during which he or she felt intense fear, helplessness or terror. Traumatic incidents that can cause PTSD include violent personal assaults such as mugging; rape or torture; being kidnapped or held captive; child abuse; military combat; and natural or human-caused catastrophes.

Many people who suffer from PTSD often relive the experiences through nightmares, flashback episodes and frightening thoughts. They have difficulty sleeping and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can significantly impair a person's daily life. They may also experience racing heart, chest pains, trembling, sweating or shortness of breath. PTSD is typically diagnosed when symptoms last for more than one month.

Who is affected?
PTSD affects an estimated 5.2 million Americans. Studies show that approximately 70% of Americans will be exposed to a traumatic event in their lifetimes, and that approximately 8% of men and 20% of women who experience such an event will go on to develop PTSD.

What Treatment Options are Available?
The most common forms of treatment are medication and psychotherapy. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed medications. SSRIs work to correct imbalances of the brain chemical serotonin. Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) have also been prescribed. SNRIs affect two brain chemicals, serotonin and norepinephrine.

Reprinted with permission of Dr. Henry W. Lahmeyer

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