Kevin Huang, BSc Pharm Student
“You’re standing by the road. Frozen & shocked, images of past memories flickers before your eyes. Frightened and scared, you feel helpless and lost. Instinctively, you turn away hoping you will never have to relive that scene ever again.”
This is a classic tale of people who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some may describe it as episodes of haunting memories. Others claim it as thorns of regret where they wish they could have done more. Nevertheless, they all share one similarity, a recurrent past which negatively impairs an individual’s quality of life. PTSD is a mental health illness which is caused by stressful or traumatic events. This could be incidents of physical injury, emotional abuse, and the loss of loved ones. Sometimes, these events can be so overwhelming to the point where individuals are unable to perform simple everyday tasks. Fortunately, PTSD can be treated. With proper management of symptoms, people struggling with this illness may have the capacity to regain control of their life.
No two people with PTSD are alike. Each person will experience different symptoms unique to their illness. Symptoms of PTSD are categorized into 4 sub-groups (intrusion, avoidance, negative cognition, and arousal) with each affecting the person differently. Due to this, it is imperative that the healthcare team collaborates with the patient to optimize care they will receive. Examples of symptoms within each sub-groups includes:
- Intrusion: flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, recurrent dreams.
- Avoidance: tendency to avoid triggers that can reinitiate the memory.
- Negative Cognition: loss of interest, the blame of self.
- Arousal: inability to sleep, self-destructive behaviour, hypervigilance.
Fortunately, PTSD is a condition which can be treated. Individuals with PTSD are initially managed through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). These therapies are designed with a step-by-step approach to help gradually expose patients to “triggers”. This is done through a collaboration of the patient with their clinician to ensure a constant push for recovery without putting them at risk of experiencing a traumatic episode. However, it is important for the team to not rush therapy. Otherwise, it is likely the patient will relapse with fear, making the treatment ineffective. This highlights the importance of communication between all parties – to ensure the patient is comfortable with the pace of treatment.
When CBT is not enough to help manage the symptoms, it may be appropriate to start medical therapies. Antidepressants (e.g. fluoxetine, sertraline) and antipsychotics (e.g. quetiapine, aripiprazole) are clinically proven to minimize the severity of symptoms in all sub-groups of individuals with PTDS. That being said, these medications have numerous side effects which can make them inappropriate for different individuals. However, through collaboration with your healthcare team, your clinicians can assess and determine which medication is the most effective and safe for you.
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- RxTx: E-Therapeutics
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- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – CMHA National [Internet]. CMHA National. 2018 [cited 9 November 2018]. Available from: https://cmha.ca/documents/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd