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What is PTSD?

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Quick Answer

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental illness caused by an external traumatic event, according to WebMD. There are many traumatic events that can trigger PTSD, including accidents, war, assault, violence and natural disasters.

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What is PTSD?
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PTSD is characterized by emotional detachment, jumpiness and flashbacks, says WebMD. Emotional detachment may manifest in an inability to cope with responsibilities, such as maintaining relationships, holding down a job or raising a child. Jumpiness" is characterized by an intense response to sudden noises, known as "hyperactive startle reflex." A flashback entails the traumatic event or events replaying constantly. People with PTSD often have a low level of cortisol, which helps shut down the "fight or flight" adrenaline release that occurs during a fearful episode, and often have higher amounts of catecholamines, a hormone that produces a stimulation effect in the body, when there is no actual threat present. After a while, other symptoms start to manifest, such as elevated heart rate and heightened hearing.

PTSD can be treated through grief counseling, as well as talking about the trauma in a process known as cognitive psychotherapy. One form of this therapy, called exposure therapy, helps the patient deal with cues and thoughts about the trauma.

Medications usually prescribed for PTSD include sertraline, or Zoloft, and paroxetine, or Paxil. These drugs act in much the same way as antidepressants to alleviate anxiety and depression.

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