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How to Deal With PTSD Patients

How to Deal With PTSD Patients

Terri Polick | NursingLink

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, also known as PTSD, is commonly associated with veterans and combat stress; but this anxiety disorder can strike anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 7% to 8% of Americans are expected to have PTSD at some point in their lives, and an estimated 5.2 million adults have PTSD in any given year. Nurses need to know how to assess patients for PTSD because of its frequent occurrence, and be prepared to help patients deal with their hidden, psychological injuries.

PTSD, A History

PTSD is not a new condition. It has a long and well-documented history with periods of war and extreme violence. Civil War veterans suffered from “soldier’s heart”; World War I veterans were diagnosed with “shell shock”; and World War II soldiers with similar symptoms were said to be suffering from “combat fatigue.” Today, researchers have recognized that PTSD can affect anyone, not just war-weary soldiers.

Individuals can develop PTSD when they go through a traumatic experience in which they truly believe that they are about to die or be seriously injured, or witness traumatic events happening to others. Examples of distressing events include natural disasters (hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, floods, and tsunamis), car accidents, explosions, fires, life-threatening illnesses, as well as interpersonal traumatic events (rape, torture, battery, being taken hostage, and child abuse).

Signs & Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of PTSD can vary, but they generally include:

• Re-experiencing the original trauma through flashbacks and nightmares
• Insomnia, angry outbursts, and hyper-vigilance
• Avoiding places or situations that remind them of the original traumatic event
• Depression and anxiety

These symptoms may manifest shortly after the event, or develop months later, and persist for longer than 30 days, at least. According the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), PTSD can cause patients to have feelings of profound emptiness, loss of hope, trust, or care for themselves and/or others. Somatoform disorders such as substance abuse, psychosis, and personality disorders are also a risk for PTSD patients.

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