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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

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Post-traumatic stress disorder is a clinical condition that can develop after an extremely traumatic experience (e.g. natural disasters, accidents or violence). It is marked by characteristic symptoms of reliving the experience, hypervigilance, avoiding stimuli related to the event and altered mood and cognition.


Although the majority of people exposed to a traumatic event recover in a reasonably short space of time and with few negative effects, some people may develop a variety of responses that make their recovery more difficult. Some of these responses are specific to traumatic stress, such as Acute Stress Reaction (ASR) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), in its various forms. In line with the Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there are currently four groups of symptoms defined for diagnosis, following a traumatic experience, requiring a duration of symptoms greater than one month and giving rise to clinically significant discomfort or a significant deterioration in the patient's functioning. It may be accompanied by dissociative symptoms (depersonalisation and/or derealisation) and presented with a delayed expression (if all criteria are not met until at least 6 months after the event). Although exposure to the traumatic event is the precipitating cause of its development, it is increasingly evident that biological and psychosocial risk factors can be predictors of the onset of symptoms, their severity and chronicity.




1. INTRUSIVE symptoms (1 or more): memories, nightmares, dissociative reactions, intense psychological and/or physiological discomfort when faced with things that evoke the trauma.

2. AVOIDANCE symptoms (of 1 or more stimuli related to the trauma): memories, people, places, etc.

3. HYPERAROUSAL and reactivity associated with the trauma (irritability, hypervigilance, concentration problems, exaggerated overwhelming response).

4. Negative cognitive and mood alterations.



How is affected by the condition ?


PTSD has been identified in people all over the world who have suffered traumatic experiences. Its prevalence varies depending on the intensity and type of traumatic experience as well as several vulnerability factors (social, financial, cultural and biological).





Diagnosis is CLINICAL and an adequate assessment must be made by an expert healthcare professional. There are different scales to assess the severity of the symptoms and/or associated comorbid disorders (particularly disorders relating to anxiety, mood and substance abuse).



Typical treatment 


Based on the evidence, treatment should be multi-modal: Psychoeducation, specific psychological treatments (e.g. Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT), exposure therapy and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) and pharmacological treatments (e.g. SSRIs, mainly sertraline and paroxetine)



Typical tests


Clinical history. Psychiatric and psychological interview, with the help of validated scales and questionnaires. 





Screening in risk groups for early diagnosis and treatment.



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