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StateSide:Policy
Backgrounder
How to Diagnose PTSD
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Affecting Thousands of Returning US Troops
08/01/2007 10:14 AM ET
MCALLEN, TEXAS - JULY 21: A US servicemember drinks water to wash down one of four anti-depression and anxiety drugs he takes for PTSD.
Chris Hondros/Getty
MCALLEN, TEXAS - JULY 21: A US servicemember drinks water to wash down one of four anti-depression and anxiety drugs he takes for PTSD.

This week the House of Representatives passed a measure designed to improve diagnosis and treatment of PTSD in servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The VA reported in April that one-third of OIF and OEF veterans have sought health care since fiscal 2002, and that mental disorders made up 37 percent of possible diagnoses among recent battlefield veterans. Half of the 84,000 patients determined to be suffering from a mental disorder were provisionally diagnosed with PTSD, though most experts consider that number to be too low

PTSD often goes undiagnosed, partly because the weakness associated with such disorders may trigger shame in individuals hailing from a military culture, discouraging them from seeking help. Also, the symptoms of PTSD are little understood, and many don't realize the seriousness of leaving the problem untreated.

From the Journal of the American Medical Association, here is a backgrounder on the symptoms of PTSD and a list of Websites for those seeking further information.

WHAT IS POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD)?

Posttraumatic stress disorder is the development of characteristic symptoms that last for more than 1 month, along with difficulty functioning after exposure to a life-threatening experience.

SYMPTOMS

* Intrusion—memories of the trauma or "flashbacks" that occur unexpectedly; these may include nightmares or physical reactions such as a racing heart

* Avoidance—avoiding people, places, thoughts, or activities that bring back memories of the trauma; this may involve feeling numb or emotionless, withdrawing from family and friends, or "self-medicating" by abusing alcohol or other drugs

* Hyperarousal—feeling "on guard" or irritable, having sleep problems, having difficulty concentrating, feeling overly alert and being easily startled, having sudden outbursts of anger

WHO IS AT RISK FOR PTSD?

* People with military combat experience or civilians who have been harmed by war

* People who have been raped, sexually abused, or physically abused

* People who have been involved in or who have witnessed a life-threatening event

* People who have been involved in a natural disaster, such as a tornado or an earthquake

TREATING PTSD

* Cognitive behavioral therapy with a trained psychiatrist, psychologist, or other professional can help change emotions, thoughts, and behaviors associated with PTSD and can facilitate managing panic, anger, and anxiety.

* Certain medications can reduce symptoms such as anxiety, impulsivity, depression, and insomnia and decrease urges to use alcohol and other drugs.

* Group therapy can help patients learn to communicate their feelings about the trauma and create a support network.

* Becoming informed about PTSD and sharing information with family and friends can create understanding and support during recovery.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

* American Psychiatric Association http://www.psych.org/public_info * Anxiety Disorders Association of America http://www.adaa.org * National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder http://www.ncptsd.org * National Institute of Mental Health/Anxiety Disorders Education Program http://www.nimh.nih.gov * Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Alliance http://www.ptsdalliance.org

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