Until recently, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, was most closely identified
with war veterans who had experienced chronic or intense combat. Many veterans returning
from the Vietnam War complained of PTSD symptoms, bringing this malady to general public
We now know that PTSD can result from a wide array of traumatic experiences, including
severe accidents, intense physical or sexual abuse, violent criminal episodes, and certain
life-threatening medical conditions. A number of victims of Adult Respiratory Distress
Syndrome, or ARDS, have reported symptoms consistent with PTSD.
The "distressing event" that triggers PTSD usually falls outside the range of
normal human experience. Rarely does it result from simple bereavement, or a chronic
illness, marital problems, or similar personal or medical difficulties that many of us
undergo. Rather, the stressor that instigates PTSD is one that would be terribly upsetting
to almost anyone, and it usually accompanied by intense fear, terror, and an overwhelming
sense of helplessness.
Most often, PTSD occurs after a serious threat to ones life or the life of a
loved one, or following a sudden and traumatic loss, such as of ones home. PTSD has
been caused by such varied stressors as violent assault, rape, military combat, tornadoes,
earthquakes, airplane crashes, torture, fires, kidnapping or severe car accidents. As some
ARDS patients and their family members realize, it can also be caused by a sudden
Also, we now know that you dont have to be a direct victim of one of these
traumas to experience PTSD. Sometimes, family members or friends of victims are so
traumatized by witnessing or learning about the stressful event happening to a loved one,
that they develop the symptoms as well.
Here are the primary symptoms of PTSD
- The individual re-experiences the traumatic event on a fairly persistent basis in one of
- Recurring and disturbing memories of the event
- Distressing dreams of the event
- A sudden sense or feeling that one is re-experiencing the event itself,
Sometimes involving illusions, hallucinations and "flashbacks".
- Intense fear of distress during exposure to events or circumstances that resemble or
symbolize the past traumatic event
- The individual attempts to avoid situations associated with the trauma that
may trigger a memory, bad dream, or "flashback".
- The individual has persistent feelings of increased arousal or vigilance that
were not present before the trauma occurred, such as:
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Intense irritability or angry outbursts
- Trouble concentrating
- Hypervigilance (being "on guard")
- An exaggerated startle response when surprised
- Signs of increased stress response (rapid breathing, higher heart rate, sweating, etc.)
when exposed to situations that resemble the earlier trauma
Sometimes, the onset of PTSD symptoms is delayed. Some individuals have developed
symptoms months or, in a few cases, even years after the precipitating traumatic episodes.
This disorder can occur in individuals of any age, including young children, and it is
unrelated to factors such as gender, family of origin, education, etc. In other words, any
one of us can develop PTSD provided we are exposed to a sufficiently traumatic event.
ARDS certainly can qualify in this regard. Often, the onset of the disease is sudden.
The intensity of the symptoms and the life-threatening nature of this illness can create
pronounced fear, outright terror, and a debilitating sense of helplessness in both the
patient and his or her loved ones.
There is an unfortunate tendency in our culture to look at syndromes such as PTSD as
being "all in your head." The implication is that people who develop PTSD have
an underlying psychological weakness or lack the fortitude to pull themselves together in
the face of stress.
There is convincing evidence that PTSD is caused by a rapid "wiring in" of
synaptic responses in the brain, and that these, in turn, catalyze alterations in brain
chemistry and functioning. In other words, PTSD is not "all in your head" but it
may be "all in your neurons." People cannot mentally will themselves over an
illness that is based on complex neurochemical process occuring in the brain.
ARDS patients of family members experiencing symptoms of PTSD that persist more than a
month should seek professional evaluation and, if indicated, treatment. Remember, PTSD may
not emerge during the acute phase of ARDS or even in conjunction with the early stages of
recovery. It could begin long after the disease crisis has passed.
Determining a diagnosis of PTSD requires both the medical and psychological
evaluations. Some of the symptoms associated with PTSD can occur in conjunction with other
illnesses psychological conditions, or neurological disorders. A good place to begin is
with a psychologist who is trained in neuropsychological assessment. She or he should
insist that you have a medical or neurological evaluation to rule out other causes. If you
or the psychologist have any doubts about the accuracy of the diagnosis, get a second
opinion. If you are found to have PTSD, a number of treatment approaches may be
recommended. These could include:
- Counseling for both you and your family
- Medication focused on positively influencing your brain chemistry or controlling you
- Desensitization training designed to help reduce your emotional responses to
situations or stimuli that trigger a re-experiencing of the earlier
- Support of self-help groups or resources
The majority of PTSD sufferers show demonstrable improvement in their symptoms
following proper treatment. Some recover entirely, while others must learn to live with
chronic but less severe symptoms that graually ease over time. It appears that the
intenslity of the traumatic event that caused the PTSD influences the outcome of treatment
efforts, with the more severe cases posing the greatest impediments to full recovery.
While there is little solid research on the incidence of PTSD among ARDS patients,
clinical evidence suggests that some do develop this syndrome. If you believe you may be
experiencing some of the symptoms associated with PTSD, and these symptoms have persisted
for more than a month, obtain a thorough medical and psychological evaluation.
Youre worth it.