WHAT IS PTSD?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, abbreviated PTSD, is a syndrome of problems that has been observed to appear after traumatic events. As with all psychiatric conditions, it is currently classified as a “disorder” (or syndrome) rather than a disease. It may be a disease (a particular biological cause that leads to symptoms), but we don’t know for sure. This particular collection of symptoms is most often associated with war, but it can be caused by other traumatic events.
The Spartans called PTSD “the trembler.” It has also been called Soldier’s Heart, Railway Spine, Shell Shock, Combat Fatigue, Neurasthenia, War Neurosis, Gross Stress Reaction, Vietnam Syndrome, and a host of other names. What type of trauma is needed to cause the condition, and exactly how severe it must be to qualify as a disorder, has been debated throughout history. Universally, however, the term PTSD has been used to describe a collection of symptoms such as insomnia, nightmares, irritability, and social isolation that were observed in people who were traumatized. More information on the history of the diagnosis is available HERE.
Currently, the most commonly used definition of PTSD comes from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The most current version of this is version IV-TR (TR= text revision). According to DSM-IV-TR, a person must have a trauma that resulted in “fear, helplessness or horror,” and have three different types of symptoms that last at least one month. These include repeatedly re-experiencing the trauma (e.g., nightmares or flashbacks),avoidance (e.g., an inability to tolerate reminders of the trauma), and being in an elevated state of arousal (e.g. insomnia, or being very jumpy). There is a bit more to the technical definition. Those wishing to see the formal DSM-IV-TR definition can click HERE.
The DSM is currently being revised to version V. As part of this, the definition of PTSD may be revised. The major areas of change concern what kind of trauma can cause the condition, and symptoms like depression, which have previously been classified as a separate problem, are really part of the same, overall syndrome. The DSM-V definition of PTSD can be found HERE.
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