Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects about 7% of the U.S. population. Veterans have an increased chance of developing PTSD, especially those deployed to war zones. Studies show that roughly 30% of Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans develop PTSD.
Living with PTSD can be extremely challenging if it is not diagnosed. The symptoms range from mild to severe and can be life changing. Understanding PTSD symptoms, health conditions associated with the disorder, and treatment options can help veterans and their loved ones live healthier and happier lives.
PTSD Among Veterans
Post-traumatic stress disorder is also known as stress or shell shock when concerning veterans. It happens after an individual experiences a life-threatening or severely traumatic event. In the military, these events typically take place during wartime.
Symptoms of PTSD
Understanding the symptoms of PTSD can help veterans and their loved ones determine if they need professional assistance. Symptoms may arise immediately after a traumatic event, or they may develop years down the road. For some veterans, the symptoms of PTSD come and go.
There are four main categories of PTSD symptoms: re-experiencing the trauma, avoidance, negative beliefs and hypervigilance.
Re-experiencing the Trauma
Unfortunately, the traumatic event doesn’t always end when the soldier is removed from the situation. The sufferer may later experience nightmares, flashbacks and intrusive thoughts, causing him or her to revisit the event. These reminders can lead to physical and emotional reactions such as heart palpitations and panic attacks.
Veterans may attempt to avoid anything that reminds them of the traumatic event. They may steer clear of situations, people, thoughts or places they associate with the trauma. A veteran with PTSD might lose interest in activities he or she once loved or withdraw from close family and friends.
Traumatic military events are often accompanied by unwarranted shame, guilt or persistent negative feelings about oneself. The individual with PTSD may also feel negative about the world or struggle to feel positive about others. He or she may experience feelings of not being able to trust anyone.
A veteran with PTSD can appear jumpy or as if he or she were always on guard. The individual may engage in reckless behavior or seem increasingly angry and irritable. It is common for veterans with PTSD to have trouble sleeping and concentrating.
PTSD and Mental and Physical Health
Unfortunately, PTSD can negatively affect a veteran’s mental and physical health. Veterans may experience depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts. It’s essential to seek immediate help for anyone considering taking their own life.
Veterans with PTSD may turn to substance abuse to cope with their symptoms. Drinking excessively, taking drugs or misusing prescription medications administered for injuries can result in numerous additional health problems. Addiction increases a person’s risk of developing heart disease, lung disease, mental health conditions, cancer or stroke.
The symptoms of PTSD may also result in muscle tension, chronic pain and fatigue. Continuous stress and difficulty sleeping can increase a veteran’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, dementia, various cancers, obesity and more.
Research also shows that PTSD can be a co-occurring disorder, as individuals with depression are more likely to develop PTSD. The negative mental and physical health impacts of PTSD are numerous, which is why it’s so critical to seek treatment.
Treatment for PTSD
As researchers learn about PTSD, more treatment options become available. The following are several evidence-based treatment approaches for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps veterans understand their triggers and why they react the way they do. This type of therapy offers techniques for identifying unhealthy behaviors or thoughts and replacing them with healthy ones.
Prolonged Exposure (PE) Therapy
Prolonged exposure therapy is an evidence-based treatment method proven useful in treating PTSD. It consists of roughly 12 90-minute therapy sessions in which the veteran undergoes psychoeducation, vivo exposure, breath training and imaginal exposure.
The patient learns to identify PTSD symptoms and use breathing techniques to calm down when experiencing unhealthy thoughts or behaviors. Imaginary exposure exercises help veterans become accustomed to the memory of the traumatic event, so it no longer affects them in the same way. Prolonged exposure therapy involves confronting and overcoming fears via numerous methods.
Relaxation and mindfulness practices like yoga, meditation and massage can ease common PTSD symptoms, such as anxiety, stress and depression. These practices may also help the person sleep better, leading to superior mental and physical health.
Additional evidence-based treatment methods for PTSD include cognitive processing therapy (CPT), pharmacological treatment, art therapy and more. Professional treatment with a qualified team of doctors and therapists is one of the most effective ways to combat or ease PTSD symptoms.
Learn more about post-traumatic stress disorder and available treatment methods in the accompanying infographic.
This infographic was created by Veteran Car Donations, auto donations for veterans
Author bio: Veteran Car Donations is a national organization that accepts vehicle donations to better the lives of veterans. The organization partners with a number of well-known veteran charities to help provide essential medical care, mental health services and more.