PTSD: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments
What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is an anxiety disorder which is often caused by traumatic or distressing events. PTSD can occur immediately after a traumatic event or can occur much later in life. Historically, PTSD has become synonymous with war veterans. Events such as WWI highlighted ‘shell shock’ which left soldiers terrified of loud noises, and difficulty reintegrating into society.
Causes of PTSD
However, anyone can be susceptible to PTSD, as there are myriad reasons for it occurring. The NHS highlight these causes specifically:
- Serious trauma (road or work accidents)
- Assault (sexual assault, muggings, robbery, domestic violence)
- Serious health problems
- Childbirth experiences
Other cases can include witnessing death, torture, and a life-threatening injury. Demographics that are more susceptible to PTSD include teenage car crash survivors, firefighters, rape victims, and prisoners of war. There are also certain risk factors making people more prone to develop PTSD. This can include a poor socioeconomic background, being an ethnic minority, suffering from other mental health illnesses, lack of education, or being female.
PTSD In The UK
In these cases, the risk of having PTSD is estimated to affect a third of individuals. The Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey indicated that PTSD is prevalent in 3% of the adult population in the UK, with a tendency for women to be more likely to have a lifetime prevalence of PTSD (10-11%) in comparison to men (5%). As of 2021, it is still unclear as to why some individuals develop PTSD after traumatic events compared to those who do not.
Whilst the strict definition of PTSD states that the trauma a patient experiences must be severe, there are also many similarities of symptoms in patients who experienced less severe traumatic events. There is also the chance that individuals may develop Complex PTSD, which is often a severe case of PTSD brought on by severe neglect or abuse from a young age, or for a sustained period of time.
Symptoms of PTSD
Symptoms can differ greatly depending on the individual, and can peak and trough in its severity. The NHS generalise the main symptoms as follows:
- Re-Experiencing – This is where a person involuntarily and vividly relives their past trauma. These can be experienced through nightmares, flashbacks, distressing mental images, or physical pain, sweating, sickness, or trembling. These negative thoughts will prevent the individual from coming to terms with the event, instead asking them questions that lead to feelings of guilt or shame. Intrusive thoughts can also emerge and cause intense distress.
- Avoidance and Emotional Numbing – Many people choose to keep themselves busy in order to distract themselves from their PTSD. They will also avoid visiting certain places, as well as specific points of conversation. By becoming potentially isolated and withdrawn, the individual hopes to deal with their feelings through emotional numbing.
- Hypersensitivity – Individuals can feel extremely panicked and constantly aware of potential threats. This anxiety can lead to insomnia, concentration issues, angry outburst, and irritability.
- Other problems – PTSD can be linked to depression and anxiety. Drug and alcohol misuse is also common among PTSD patients, who seek to forget about their trauma. People can lose interest in hobbies and activities that previously made them happy. Personal relationships can breakdown, as maintaining positive relationships can prove too difficult.
These issues can also affect personal life. Self-care may decline in patients as they struggle to look after themselves and can struggle to hold down a job. Their sex drive may decline, and change may be hard to adjust to in everyday life. You may have to inform the DVLA that you have PTSD in specific cases. Individuals may disassociate and experience suicidal feelings, leading to self-harm.
Treatment Available Through The NHS
Various treatments are available through the NHS, who state that professional help is essential for overcoming PTSD. The process begins through your GP, who will undertake a detailed assessment of your symptoms. This can also be undertaken by a psychological therapy service which includes therapists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, or psychiatrists.
Active Monitoring – This is treatment for patients who have had symptoms of PTSD for less than 4 weeks, which involved close monitoring to see if symptoms worsen or get better. This is usually the NHS’s approach to initial PTSD assessments, as around 2 in 3 people get better within a few weeks without treatment.
If PTSD symptoms persist, psychological therapies are usually the next step. Referrals to the NHS psychological therapies service (IAPT) are common, as well as specialist clinic appointments. These appointments can be available without GP supervision. The main therapies offered by the NHS are as follows:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – This is the most common form of therapy, which bring a patient and therapist together to talk about their feelings and face your traumatic memories through a range of psychological techniques. The therapist will attempt to help you take control of your fear and distress, and break down your understanding of traumatic events. It aims to reintegrate individuals back into the world, and encourage confidence in restarting activities and living life to a high standard. These sessions last around 60 to 90 minutes.
- Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) – This is a therapy that involves recalling traumatic events in detail whilst making eye movements directed by the therapist. It is not clear how EMDR works, but it helps change the way you may think about a traumatic experience.
- Charities – A range of charities exist in the UK specialising in certain types of PTSD. These include Combat Stress (ex-servicemen), Rape Crisis (sexual assault and domestic abuse victims), Victim Support (victims of crime), and CRUSE (bereavement).
Anti-Depressant Treatment for PTSD
Alternative, medicines can be prescribed. These include a range of antidepressants such as sertraline, mirtazapine, paroxetine, and phenelzine. These are often used specifically to treat PTSD. However, these medicines will only be prescribed if the individual refuses psychological treatment, or if therapy has proved ineffective. It can also be used in cases of severe depression which can prevent progression in therapy. Only individuals over 18 will usually have access to such medicines.
These medicines will be used for a minimum of 4 weeks, with the intention to take patients off once they feel better. Side effects are also highlighted, which include increased anxiety, intense dreams, irritability, dizziness, and blurred vision.
For children suffering from PTSD, CBT is usually offered in a controlled environment that is adapted to the age of the child so as not to overwhelm them.
Private Therapy for PTSD
Individuals can also choose to have private therapies that work outside of the NHS and therefore charge hourly rates. NHS services refer 75% of patients to IAPT treatment within 6 weeks, and 95% start treatment within 18 weeks of referral. Individuals may find it better to book private therapy as they can be seen sooner. However, due to higher prices, private therapy can be harder to access for lower income individuals.
How can PEMF help with PTSD?
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is the main electromagnetic therapy for helping with PTSD. It is an FDA-Approved treatment that is non-invasive and does not rely on medication or sedation. PTSD is focussed largely within the brain, with the Hippocampus being responsible for storing memories, and the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex being engaged with our emotions. These areas of the brain become overworked with PTSD.
Many patients report not feeling better after many standard treatments such as therapy and antidepressants. This is referred to as becoming ‘treatment-resistant’.
TMS treatment works by stimulating cells through an electromagnetic coil, or vibrations. These aim to restore balance and stability not only in your brain, but throughout your body. Sessions are usually daily and last around 30 minutes. There is no required recovery time after sessions so patients can continue with their normal days. There are some reports of minor side effects, such as a brief headache or light-headedness.
How PEMF Treatment Works
The treatment itself is completed through sitting in a comfortable chair whilst the practitioner works out your needs and what frequency to use. The machine is then turned on and left to work on your mind and body. This procedure will then last for 30 minutes or longer. During this time, you are welcome to sit back and relax. These sessions should continue for multiple weeks, with regular check-ins for how you are feeling and to see if there are any improvements.
Studies into PEMF Therapy & PTSD
In a single study, it was shown that a third of test patients felt significantly improved with their symptoms, having suffered from both PTSD and severe depression. Another study showed that low frequency PEMF treatment helped patients suffering from high-level anxiety by managing anxiety disorders, and by week three of the study 90% of patients felt an improvement of more than 50%. This study also held similar results for depression and PTSD symptoms. PEMF therapy has shown to be a great alternative for patients who have become treatment-resistant or have not felt improvements from conventional therapy.
What can we offer?
We cannot guarantee to treat or cure PTSD, yet we are encouraged by the emerging clinical trials into PEMF therapies and their uses for patients with PTSD symptoms.
We offer PEMF therapy at our not-for-profit Centre in the Bristol area. Our dedicated team will have an initial session with you to find out your symptoms, and the correct frequencies needed to help you. We can then book regular sessions in to help improve your symptoms from PTSD. We are flexible with our approach and will adjust treatment where necessary.
Our SCIO machines are available for rental use at home. We can also offer therapy at a discounted rate through our Concessions Clinic. You can learn more by clicking HERE.
If you have any queries about our clinic, PEMF therapies, or anything else, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our Lead Practitioner, Kasey, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone us on 03301 3301 83. You can also get in contact with our Research Assistant, Aled, at email@example.com.