War veterans brought PTSD to the public's attention, although PTSD can occur as a result of a number of incidents involving trauma. Floods, earthquakes, torture, rape, kidnapping, child abuse, being held captive, mugging, train wrecks, car accidents, bombings, and plane crashes are all examples of the kinds of incidents that can cause PTSD in people.
PTSD affects those with it in some different ways. Persons with it may become emotionally, 'numb,' towards people they used to be close to or others, or startle easily. They may lose interest in things they used to enjoy, or become irritable, or have trouble feeling affectionate. They may become aggressive, or even violent in some cases. Persons with PTSD avoid situations that remind them of their trauma, with anniversaries being particularly difficult.
If the event that triggered the trauma was deliberately begun by another person, it may make PTSD symptoms worse for the person affected; in a kidnapping or mugging, for example. Persons with PTSD have, 'flashbacks,' where they repeatedly re-live the trauma they have experienced in their thoughts during the day, and at night while they sleep. Flashbacks are complex, and can involve smells, sounds, feelings, and images that can be triggered by everyday things like a car backfiring, or a door slamming. Persons with PTSD who are experiencing a flashback may believe that the traumatic event is happening again, and lost touch with reality.
The symptoms of PTSD, and their affect on individuals, vary from person-to-person. Symptoms of PTSD commonly begin within three months of the original trauma, although they can appear even years afterward. The symptoms need to last for more than one month in order to be considered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the course of the illness varies. For some people, recovery occurs within a six-month period of time; others experience symptoms for much longer. Other persons with PTSD are described as, 'chronic.' Not all persons who have experienced trauma will develop PTSD.
Approximately 7.7 million adults in the United States have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, although PTSD can happen to children as well. Women are more likely than men to develop PTSD, and there is some evidence that the disorder may run in families. There are medications which have proven effective in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Psychotherapeutic techniques are affective as well.
Social Phobia (SAD)
Persons with Social Phobia, also referred to as, 'Social Anxiety Disorder, ' or, 'SAD,' describe feelings of anxiety in social situations, not wanting to leave their homes, pounding heart, sweaty palms, and embarrassment. They may feel clumsy around others, want to leave social situations as quickly as possible, or like they don't have anything to say. They may even feel physically ill around others.
A diagnosis of SAD is reached when a person experiences overwhelming anxiety in social situations, and is excessively self-conscious in them. Persons with SAD are intensely, chronically fearful of being judged and watched by others, and of doing things that might embarrass them in social situations. They may worry for days, or even weeks about a social situation and the fear can become so serious that it can interfere with everything in the person's life. School, work, and other daily activities can become extremely difficult, and so can either making or keeping friends.
The inability to overcome these fears of social situations makes SAD even more difficult for persons affected by it. Many persons with this disorder are aware that their fears are unreasonable and excessive, but are unable to overcome them. If they manage to face their fears and be around other people they may still be extremely anxious beforehand, during the social situation, and may worry about the opinions of the other people involved in the social situation in relation to them for hours afterward. Seemingly simple social situation, such as talking to one person or eating lunch with one person, may be difficult for a person affected by SAD. Getting up in front of a group of people may be incredibly difficult. Persons with SAD may experience anxiety in the presence of anyone other than immediate family members. SAD may affect a person in smaller ways as well, so that it is limited to only a specific situation.
Approximately 15 million adults are affected by SAD in the United States. Women are more likely to be affected by SAD than men. SAD usually presents symptoms in either childhood or in early adolescence, and there is evidence that it may run in families. SAD is treatable with either medications, or with Psychotherapy.
Persons with specific phobias express fears and anxiety related to specific situations or things. For example, a person may be afraid of flying in a plane, experiencing a pounding heart, sweating, a sense of loss of control, fear of crashing, and anxiety. Specific Phobias involve intense fears of things that present little or no actual danger. Fear of things such as escalators, tunnels, heights, closed-in places, dogs, and highway driving are specific phobias. These phobias are not just a fear of the things mentioned and others; they have become irrational fears. A person may be able to ski down a mountain, but find themselves unable to take an elevator to the sixth floor. Persons with these Specific Phobias may realize that their phobia is irrational, and discover that facing their phobia or even thinking about it can cause severe anxiety or a panic attack.
Approximately 19.2 million adults in the United States have some form of Specific Phobia. Women are more likely to experience a specific phobia than men. Symptoms of a specific phobia commonly appear in either childhood or in adolescence, and then continue into adulthood. There is evidence that a tendency towards specific phobias runs in families, although the causes of specific phobias are not clearly understood. Psychotherapy is used to treat Specific Phobias, often with good results.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Persons with GAD express feelings of being wound up and unable to relax, as well as having difficulty sleeping. They describe being,' unable to let something go,' having trouble concentrating, feeling lightheaded, a pounding heart, worrying, and anxiety. Persons with GAD often live through days which are filled with exaggerated tension and worry, although there is nothing really wrong. They live in anticipation of a disaster; concerns over money, family, health, and work run through their mind. Worries about daily living can even produce anxiety in persons with GAD.
A diagnosis of GAD is reached when a person is worrying excessively over a number of daily issues over a period of six months or more. Persons with GAD may realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situations they face deserves, but are unable to rid themselves of the concern and anxiety. They have difficulty with staying asleep, or even falling asleep in the first place. They can have a number of physical symptoms in association with GAD, including muscle tension, muscle aches, fatigue, headaches, trembling, and twitching. They may also experience sweating, irritability, nausea, lightheadedness, hot flashes, and having to go to the bathroom repeatedly. If a person with GAD's anxiety level is low, they may be able to keep a job and function socially. If their anxiety level is high, a person with GAD may find them self unable to do even the simplest daily activities.
Approximately 6.8 million adults are affected by GAD in the United States. Almost twice as many women as men are affected by GAD. The risk of developing GAD is highest between the ages of childhood and middle-age, although the disorder can begin throughout the life-cycle, and begins gradually. There is some evidence that genetic factors play a modest role in GAD. Treatment for GAD involves either medication, or Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.
Treatment of Anxiety Disorders
As a general rule, medications and psychotherapy are used to treat anxiety disorders, or both. Every person is an individual, and their treatment depends on their specific disorder and preferences. Prior to treatment, a physician conducts a diagnostic evaluation with the goal of determining if the person's symptoms are being caused by an anxiety disorder, of if they are being caused by a physical problem. If the symptoms are being caused by an anxiety disorder it is important to identify the form or forms of disorders that are present. If there are any co-existing conditions that the person is experiencing, like depression, alcoholism, or drug abuse, the have to be treated before the anxiety disorder can be treated.
Persons with anxiety disorders who have received prior treatment for the disorders need to inform their doctor, and describe the kind of treatment they have received including any medications they have taken and the dosages. If the medications were increased in dosage over the course of treatment, the doctor needs to know, as well as any side-effects the person may have experienced, and how the medications worked for them. If the person received psychotherapy, the doctor needs to know what kind of therapy was involved, how often the person attended sessions, and how well the therapy worked for the person.
Sometimes people with anxiety disorders think they have not done well with forms of treatment, or that they did not work, when in actuality the treatment was not given for an adequate period of time or administered correctly. It is important to find the right treatment for the person, and their particular anxiety disorder; this can take some patience and different attempts.
Medications do not, 'cure,' anxiety disorders. Medications do keep symptoms of anxiety disorder under control while a person receives psychotherapy. A physician or psychiatrist can prescribe medications to help control the symptoms of an anxiety disorder, and work with other healthcare professionals. Psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and counselors can provide psychotherapy to relieve anxiety disorders. Medications used for anxiety disorders include antidepressants, beta-blockers, and anti-anxiety medications.
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