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Types of PTSD: A Closer Look at Symptoms, Progression, and Treatment

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop following exposure to traumatic events like natural disasters, accidents, or violent assaults. People with PTSD often suffer from distressing symptoms that profoundly impact their daily lives, including intrusive thoughts, avoidance behavior, negative shifts in their thinking and mood, and alterations in their physical and emotional responses. These symptoms can continue to affect an individual’s well-being long after the traumatic event has occurred. In this article, we’ll explore the different types of PTSD, their progression, and the types of treatment that are available.

What is PTSD?

PTSD can develop in response to multiple traumatic events, such as personal violence, natural or human-induced disasters, combat situations, accidents, and acts of violence [13]. It may also affect individuals experiencing repeated exposure to trauma, including military photographers or first responders [13]. Classified under Trauma- and Stress-related Disorders in the DSM-5, PTSD is linked to severe functional impairment, often co-occurring with other mental health conditions and an increased risk of mortality, frequently accompanied by suicidal tendencies [14]. This condition can stem from a wide range of traumatic experiences, including threats, injuries, combat, sexual assault, interpersonal conflicts, child abuse, and medical illnesses [14].

Diagnostic Criteria

Symptoms of PTSD in adults must persist for at least one month to meet diagnostic criteria [16]. These symptoms fall into several categories:

  1. Re-experiencing Symptoms: These encompass vivid flashbacks, recurring memories, distressing thoughts, and physical signs of stress triggered by reminders of the traumatic event [16].
  2. Avoidance Symptoms: Individuals with PTSD tend to avoid reminders of the trauma, such as places, events, or objects, while suppressing thoughts and feelings related to the event [16].
  3. Arousal and Reactivity Symptoms: These include being easily startled, persistent tension, concentration difficulties, sleep disturbances, irritability, and reckless behavior [16].
  4. Cognition and Mood Symptoms: This category involves difficulty remembering essential trauma details, negative self-perceptions, self-blame, ongoing negative emotions, loss of interest in enjoyable activities, social isolation, and an inability to experience positive emotions [16].

Common Symptoms Across All Types of PTSD

Despite the diversity of PTSD types, some common symptoms permeate all of them [14]:

  1. Intrusive Symptoms include intrusive memories, nightmares, or flashbacks that make individuals feel like they are reliving the major traumatic event.
  2. Avoidance Behaviors: Individuals with PTSD often go to great lengths throughout daily life to avoid situations or events that remind them of the traumatic event, including places, people, conversations, or activities that trigger distressing memories.
  3. Negative Alterations in Cognition and Mood: Individuals with PTSD may experience persistent feelings of guilt, blame, or shame related to the experienced trauma, along with difficulty recalling key details of the event.
  4. Alterations in Arousal and Reactivity: PTSD often leads to heightened arousal and reactivity, characterized by being easily startled, constantly on edge, having trouble sleeping, feeling irritable, and engaging in risky behaviors.
  5. Dissociation: Dissociation, a coping mechanism, can manifest as depersonalization (feeling detached from oneself) or derealization (perceiving the world as unreal or dreamlike) [7].

Types of PTSD

PTSD can be further classified into six subtypes, each with unique characteristics and symptoms:

  1. Normal Stress Response: This is not technically a type of PTSD but refers to immediate psychological and physical reactions to trauma, which are considered normal following a traumatic event [20]. A normal stress response turns into PTSD when these symptoms persist and become chronic.
  2. Acute Stress Disorder (ASD): ASD shares similarities with PTSD but typically lasts for a shorter duration and may develop into PTSD if symptoms persist [10]. Acute stress disorder serves as an early indicator of post-trauma stress reactions and the need for intervention [5].
  3. Uncomplicated PTSD: Uncomplicated PTSD is connected to one major traumatic event as opposed to multiple traumatic events. Individuals may experience some of the same symptoms associated with other stress disorders, however, it is the easiest form of PTSD to treat.
  4. Complex PTSD (CPTSD): CPTSD involves a broader range of symptoms, including severe disconnection from reality, emotional instability, physical symptoms, and changes in self-perception and relationships [11].
  5. Dissociative PTSD (D-PTSD): D-PTSD involves intense and frequent episodes of dissociation seen in dissociative disorders including depersonalization and derealization [7, 14-15].
  6. Delayed-Onset PTSD: Symptoms of delayed-onset PTSD develop at least six months after a traumatic event [4, 6, 21].
  7. Comorbid PTSD: Co-morbid PTSD refers to the coexistence of other mental health disorders alongside PTSD, such as depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse issues, or physical symptom disorders [2-3, 12, 17].

Progression of PTSD

The progression of PTSD varies among individuals and is influenced by factors like the nature of the traumatic experience, an individual’s resilience, social support, and access to treatment. Early intervention is crucial in preventing chronic and severe PTSD. While most individuals initially display normal acute reactions to trauma, approximately two-thirds recover naturally, while those who develop PTSD experience deviations from this recovery trajectory [13].

PTSD Treatment

PTSD is a challenging mental illness, but numerous treatments are available, broadly categorized into psychotherapies and pharmacological interventions [11]:

Psychotherapy:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps individuals identify and change trauma-related negative thoughts and behaviors.
  • Exposure Therapy: This component of CBT aims to reduce avoidance behavior by gradually exposing individuals to traumatic memories in a controlled environment.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR combines psychotherapy with guided eye movements or rhythmic stimulation to help individuals process distressing memories.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): Originally designed for borderline personality disorder, DBT has been adapted to address co-morbid BPD and PTSD.
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE): PE targets avoidance behaviors seen in PTSD by gradually confronting and processing traumatic memories.
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): CPT focuses on challenging and reframing negative thought patterns related to trauma.

Pharmacological Interventions:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs are considered the first-line pharmacotherapeutic treatment for PTSD. They are widely used and have shown effectiveness in managing PTSD symptoms. Some specific SSRIs include fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline, and fluvoxamine [9].
  • Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs): SNRIs like venlafaxine are also recommended as first-line treatments. They work on both serotonin and norepinephrine pathways, which can be beneficial for managing the complex symptoms of PTSD [9].
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs): TCAs such as amitriptyline, imipramine, and desipramine are mentioned as potential alternatives. However, their use may be less common than SSRIs and SNRIs due to their side effect profile and the availability of newer antidepressant options [9].
  • Second-Generation Antipsychotics (SGAs): Risperidone and olanzapine are discussed as adjunctive treatments for specific symptoms or as third-line options. They may be considered when other medications are ineffective, but their use is generally more limited due to potential adverse effects [9]
  • Alpha-1 Adrenergic Antagonist (Prazosin): Prazosin is recommended for those with PTSD-associated nightmares, particularly in combat-related PTSD. It can enhance sleep quality and decrease the occurrence and severity of distressing nightmares related to trauma. [9].
  • Mood Stabilizers: Mood stabilizers like topiramate, lamotrigine, and divalproex may be used in individuals with multiple mental disorders, such as managing mood symptoms in individuals with both PTSD and mood disorders, they are not typically used as first-line treatments for PTSD itself [9].

Complementary and Alternative Therapies:

Complementary and alternative therapies for PTSD include mindfulness-based therapies, yoga, group therapy, art therapy, acupuncture, and more [11]. While not standalone treatments, these approaches may complement traditional psychotherapies and offer additional tools for individuals in their recovery journey [11].

  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese therapy that uses thin needles inserted into targeted points of the body tied to specific bodily functions and symptoms. Acupuncture is believed to restore the flow of energy, or “qi,” and promote healing [18].
  • Meditation: Meditation is one mindfulness practice focusing on calming the mind and reducing stress. It may include techniques like mindfulness meditation or guided imagery [19] 
  • Yoga: Mindfulness-based treatments for PTSD have emerged as promising adjunctive or alternative intervention approaches [1]. Sudarshan Kriya yoga has also been found to reduce symptoms in veterans experiencing PTSD. [18].
  • Deep-Breathing Exercises: Deep-breathing exercises are relaxation techniques emphasizing controlled, deep breaths designed to reduce stress and anxiety [19].
  • Mind-Body Therapy: This category may include various therapies emphasizing the mind-body connection. It could involve techniques like biofeedback, hypnotherapy, or progressive relaxation [19].
  • Tai Chi: Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art form that combines slow, flowing movements with deep breathing. It is often practiced for its potential health benefits, including stress reduction [19].

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS):

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a promising and FDA-approved therapy for people dealing with PTSD [8]. This treatment involves using magnetic fields to target specific areas of the brain, and research suggests it has several advantages [8]. Many studies have found that TMS can significantly reduce core PTSD symptoms, as assessed through clinical evaluations and self-reports [8].

It’s worth noting that TMS doesn’t just alleviate symptoms; it can also positively impact emotional well-being. Patients have reported improved mood, reduced anxiety, and less hostility and insomnia due to TMS therapy [8]. Additionally, TMS shows promise in improving social and occupational functioning, helping individuals perform better in their daily activities and work-related tasks, which can be challenging for those with PTSD [8.

TMS has also shown potential in treating co-existing conditions like major depressive disorder (MDD), which can significantly benefit individuals dealing with multiple psychiatric issues at once [8]. This treatment is generally considered safe and well-tolerated, with manageable and temporary side effects like headaches, scalp pain, and brief mood disturbances [8].

Researchers are actively working to refine TMS therapy for PTSD, including finding the best frequency, duration, and target brain regions for treatment [8. Meta-analyses and systematic reviews suggest that TMS holds promise in effectively reducing PTSD symptoms, with a slight preference for high-frequency TMS over low-frequency approaches [8]. Despite these encouraging findings, further research is needed to optimize TMS protocols and fully harness its potential to offer more effective therapies for individuals struggling with this challenging disorder [8].

Getting the Help You Need

Understanding the types, symptoms, progression, and treatment options for PTSD is essential in helping individuals navigate and recover from this challenging condition. Early intervention and tailored treatment plans are key to improving the well-being of those affected by PTSD. When left untreated, stress disorders can develop into a bigger mental health concern accompanied by other co-occurring disorders. Reaching out to a mental health professional who knows how to treat PTSD can make a huge difference in the overall severity and duration of stress disorders.

If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD, it is time to take a step towards healing and recovery. Get in touch with Neuro Wellness Spa today and explore our innovative therapies and treatment methods for PTSD that can make a difference in your life. Don’t let PTSD hold you back – reach out and take the first step towards a brighter future. Your well-being is our priority, and together, we can embark on a journey towards a healthier and happier you.

References:

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  7. Deen, A., Biedermann, S. V., Lotzin, A., Krüger-Gottschalk, A., Dyer, A., Knaevelsrud, C., Rau, H., Schellong, J., Ehring, T., & Schäfer, I. (2022). The dissociative subtype of PTSD in trauma-exposed individuals: a latent class analysis and examination of clinical covariates. European journal of psychotraumatology, 13(1), 2031591. https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2022.2031591
  8. Edinoff, A. N., Hegefeld, T. L., Petersen, M., Patterson, J. C., 2nd, Yossi, C., Slizewski, J., Osumi, A., Cornett, E. M., Kaye, A., Kaye, J. S., Javalkar, V., Viswanath, O., Urits, I., & Kaye, A. D. (2022). Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Frontiers in psychiatry, 13, 701348. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2022.701348
  9. Ehret M. (2019). Treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder: Focus on pharmacotherapy. The mental health clinician, 9(6), 373–382. https://doi.org/10.9740/mhc.2019.11.373
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