Who Develops PTSD and What Are the Effects?

Who Is Most Likely to Develop It?

A few different groups of people are most likely to develop PTSD. These groups include:
  • Those who experience greater stressor magnitude and intensity, unpredictability, uncontrollability, sexual (as opposed to nonsexual) victimization, real or perceived responsibility for the event, and betrayal
  • Those who are already vulnerable to PTSD due to factors such as genetics, early age of onset and longer-lasting childhood trauma, lack of functional social support, and concurrent stressful life events
  • Those who report greater perceived threat or danger, suffering, upset, terror, and horror or fear
  • Those with a social environment that produces shame, guilt, stigmatization, or self-hatred.

What Are the Effects of PTSD?

PTSD is associated with a number of distinctive changes in the brain and body. It may be associated with changes in both the central and autonomic nervous systems, such as altered brainwave activity, decreased volume of the hippocampus, and abnormal activation of the amygdala. Both the hippocampus and the amygdala are parts of the brain that are involved in the processing and integration of memory. The amygdala has also been found to be involved in coordinating the body's fear response. Other alterations associated with PTSD include:
  • Hyperarousal of the sympathetic nervous system (which controls the "fight or flight" phenomenon)
  • Increased sensitivity of the startle reflex
  • Sleep abnormalities.
People with PTSD tend to have abnormal levels of key hormones involved in the body's response to stress. Thyroid function also seems to be enhanced in people with PTSD. Some studies have shown that cortisol levels in those with PTSD are lower than normal, and epinephrine and norepinephrine levels are higher than normal. People with PTSD also continue to produce higher-than-normal levels of natural opiates after the trauma has passed.
An important finding is that the neurohormonal changes seen in PTSD are distinct from, and actually opposite to, those seen in major depression. The distinctive profile associated with PTSD is also seen in individuals who have both PTSD and depression.
The condition is associated with the increased likelihood of co-occurring psychiatric disorders. In a large-scale study, 88 percent of men and 79 percent of women with PTSD met criteria for another psychiatric disorder. The co-occurring disorders most prevalent for men with PTSD were:
  • Alcohol abuse or dependence (51.9 percent)
  • Major depressive episodes (47.9 percent)
  • Conduct disorders (43.3 percent)
  • Drug abuse and dependence (34.5 percent).
The disorders most frequently co-occurring with PTSD among women were:
  • Major depressive disorders (48.5 percent)
  • Simple phobias (29 percent)
  • Social phobias (28.4 percent)
  • Alcohol abuse/dependence (27.9 percent).
PTSD also significantly impacts psychosocial functioning, independent of any other conditions that are occurring at the same time. For instance, Vietnam veterans with PTSD were found to have profound and pervasive problems in their daily lives. These included problems in family and other interpersonal relationships, problems with employment, and involvement with the criminal justice system.
Common physical complaints in those with PTSD include:
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal complaints
  • Immune system problems
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Discomfort in other parts of the body.
Often, medical doctors treat the symptoms without being aware that they stem from PTSD.
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