PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder affecting people who have survived a severe trauma. Though it is most common among combat veterans, it also affects accident and assault victims, first responders, and others who suffer traumas.
As with other anxiety disorders, PTSD involves a chemical imbalance in the reward circuit of the brain, manifesting itself with a wide variety of symptoms and effects.
People with PTSD have among the highest rates of healthcare service use, presenting with a range of symptoms, the cause of which may be overlooked or undiagnosed as having resulted from past trauma.
According to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), PTSD can cause many symptoms. These symptoms are grouped into three categories:
1. Re-experiencing symptoms:
• Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
• Bad dreams
• Frightening thoughts
Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine. They can start from the person’s own thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experience.
2. Avoidance symptoms:
• Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
• Feeling emotionally numb
• Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
• Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
• Having trouble remembering the dangerous event
Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.
3. Hyperarousal symptoms:
• Being easily startled
• Feeling tense or “on edge”
• Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts
Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.
According to HealMyPTSD.com:
• Among people who are victims of a severe traumatic experience 60-80% will develop PTSD
• Almost 50% of all outpatient mental health patients have PTSD
• An estimated 8% of Americans, or 31.3 million people have PTSD at any given time
According to a Congressional Budget Office report titled, “The Veterans Health Administration’s Treatment of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury Among Recent Combat Veterans,” 21% of returning combat troops are diagnosed with PTSD.
According to the CBO, average treatment costs for returning veterans are over $8,000 per veteran for the first year, and over $4,000 per year thereafter.
Additionally, non-psychiatric, direct medical costs for PTSD sufferers in the general population, e.g., doctor and hospital visits, are estimated at $23 billion annually.
According to a USA Today report (July 14, 2012) The Department of Defense has a woeful lack of information on the effectiveness and related costs of its post-traumatic stress disorder treatment programs, despite having spent millions of dollars on various initiatives to address psychological health and traumatic brain injury.
A 2008 (Institute of Medicine) report on PTSD treatments concluded that neither (selective serotonin inhibitors) nor any other drugs could be considered effective for the treatment of PTSD. The evidence base for other antidepressants, tricyclic and monoamine oxidase inhibitors and other drugs as effective pharmacotherapy for PTSD is, at best, mixed and inconclusive, the report states.
In other words, drugs are of limited use in treating PTSD.
Furthermore, about a third of PTSD victims never recover despite treatment.
For any treatment to be effective, it must correct the chemical imbalances in the brain associated with stress, anxiety and PTSD.