What Are The Long-Term Effects Of PTSD?

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

The long-term impact of PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can significantly impact a person's day-to-day life. It can affect their ability to perform daily tasks, relate to their friends and family, and be productive in their workplace.

People with PTSD can seem distant or apathetic — this is a defense response that helps them avoid thinking about and reliving painful, traumatic memories. 

PTSD sufferers can often start to avoid activities, neglect family life, and ignore people’s offers of help, making people feel shut off from their loved ones. 

Behaviors such as these can lead to more problems down the line. People with PTSD need extra support from their loved ones and may not fully know what has happened or why they need this assistance. 

If PTSD is ongoing and lasts a long time, people can go on to develop other mental health issues. Commonly, people with PTSD develop anxiety, depression, and/or substance abuse issues. These sometimes happen as a direct response to trauma or as the result of PTSD symptoms. 

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD symptoms may not appear immediately following the traumatic experience. It can take months or years for symptoms of PTSD to show up. 

Symptoms can make daily life difficult and significantly affect many areas, such as your relationships, work, and physical health. People with PTSD generally experience four main symptoms:

  • They increasingly experience negative thoughts and feelings — for example, they may feel angry, afraid, guilty, numb, or flat. They can develop an outlook on life where, for example, they think ‘everyone is dangerous,’ or they see themselves as a bad person,’ which can lead to them distancing themselves from their loved ones.

  • They may avoid being reminded of the event, steering clear of people, things, places, activities, thoughts, feelings, and situations that bring back traumatic memories.

  • They can become overly alert or ‘on edge’ about things happening around them. This can be brought on by sleeping issues, difficulty focusing, irritability, constantly looking for danger and being startled easily.

  • They can have recurring thoughts, flashbacks, or vivid nightmares where they relive the traumatic experience. This can trigger strong physical and emotional reactions such as sweating, anxiety, heart palpitations, or panic.

Health professionals may diagnose a person with PTSD if they exhibit symptoms in each of these four categories for more than one month, and they significantly impact their ability to study, work, and maintain relationships on a day-to-day basis.

PTSD sufferers can also sometimes have ‘dissociative experiences.’ When describing these experiences, people may say:

  • “Time stood still.”

  • “It felt like I was outside my body, watching from above.”

  • “It felt as though I wasn’t there.”

These experiences can be incredibly distressing for the individual. Not all individuals with PTSD experience the symptoms in the same way and with the same intensity.

Long-term effects of PTSD

PTSD can develop after an individual witnesses or experiences something traumatic first-hand. 

Symptoms of PTSD can be debilitating and may include extreme fear and anxiety, nightmares and flashbacks, and uncontrollable thoughts about the traumatic event. 

Symptoms of PTSD can increase in severity and last anywhere from one month to many years. They may disrupt the day-to-day lives of sufferers. To reduce their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life, it is imperative that people who think they may have PTSD seek treatment.

Anxiety

People with PTSD can often have feelings of extreme fear or nervousness. They can feel like they are constantly exposed to danger and can sometimes act aggressively or defensively to maintain their feelings of safety. 

Intense feelings like these can cause people to turn to drugs and alcohol to help them cope, sometimes leading to substance abuse issues. 

Anxiety and its complications can significantly impact an individual’s physical and mental health. 

Anxiety can create physical symptoms like increased heart rate, sweating, gut issues, tiredness, and hyperventilation. These symptoms can have long-term effects on a person's physical health due to stress hormones being released from the brain in response to perceived danger.

Insomnia and/or sleep disturbances

It is common for people with PTSD to experience sleeping difficulties that may lead to insomnia. They can find it difficult to fall asleep or have a deep sleep, and they may wake up constantly throughout the night.

As a result of these sleeping issues, a person may not get enough rest and feel they have low energy when they wake up in the morning. 

This low energy can cause fatigue, irritability, and sadness, which can amplify the symptoms of PTSD. Having insomnia can cause a lot of distress to a person, and sufferers may find it more and more difficult to go about their everyday life and complete simple tasks. 

Long-term disturbances to someone’s sleep schedule can negatively impact their lives to a significant degree. It can make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight and increases their risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

Having a healthy sleep schedule and getting 7-9 hours of sleep every night is crucial for healthy brain function, especially for people with PTSD.

Social withdrawal

It is common for people with PTSD to isolate themselves from their loved ones. Separating themselves from their friends, not attending parties, or not participating in events involving teamwork is common in people with PTSD. 

While it isn’t unusual for people to enjoy time by themselves, the social isolation PTSD sufferers put themselves through is more than skipping a few parties.

People with PTSD who go through social withdrawal tend to completely retreat from socializing altogether. They often reject the help and advice of friends and family and sometimes dismiss the idea of participating in society. 

This can be a result of their feelings of powerlessness and dissociation from their loved ones and the world they live in. 

They can sometimes feel unsafe around unfamiliar people, making them anxious and worsening their PTSD symptoms. 

People can self-isolate as they may see it as a way to avoid triggering events. If they are by themselves, it is much less likely that they will encounter traumatic incidents.

Chronic pain

People with PTSD may experience chronic pain.¹ This pain may act as a reminder of the traumatic experience and could worsen PTSD symptoms further. There is a common link between PTSD and chronic pain. 

Many people with chronic pain suffer from PTSD due to the incident or accident that caused the injury. 

Guilt and/or shame

Individuals who develop PTSD as a result of experiencing a traumatic event may feel shame or guilt related to the incident. Often, this occurs because they believe that the outcome might have been different if they had done something differently. 

Often, after enduring traumatic events, people develop survivor’s guilt if they survived the event and others did not. People tend to blame themselves and feel guilty that they could have changed what happened or saved someone's life if only they had tried harder. 

Guilt developed through these thoughts can lead to the individual developing mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. 

PTSD statistics

PTSD is prevalent within the United States: approximately 8 million adults in the U.S. alone have PTSD in a given year. This is around 3.5% of the American population. Approximately 70% of adults will experience at least one traumatic event within their lifetime, and 20% of these people will go on to develop PTSD as a result. 

PTSD is more prevalent in women (10%) than men (4%). While most of the statistics surrounding PTSD measure the adult population, the disorder can occur in any age group. It is estimated that 5% of children and adolescents experience PTSD.

Statistics² covering PTSD in war veterans are inaccurate, as the disorder was not officially recognized as a medical diagnosis until the 1980s. Before this, the condition was referred to as ‘shell shock.’ Reports of people who returned from the Civil War, World War I, and World War II indicate that PTSD occurred in many people.

What are the causes and risk factors for PTSD?

People can develop PTSD at any time during their lives. It is most common in people who have experienced trauma such as physical abuse, sexual assault, vehicle accidents, natural disasters, or wars. 

Many factors influence the risk of developing PTSD following a traumatic event. 

Genetic factors such as mental health issues passed down from relatives are a risk factor for developing PTSD. Scientists³ have found that there are a number of genes that can influence your risk of PTSD.

Another risk factor for PTSD is whether you are a male or female. As mentioned earlier, PTSD is more prevalent in women than in men.

Socioeconomic and social factors also influence your risk of developing PTSD. People that lack the support of their friends and family are at a higher risk of suffering from PTSD than those with rich relationships with their loved ones. 

People’s lack of accessibility to income, healthcare, food, housing, and education are also risk factors for PTSD. Refugees and asylum seekers⁴ have been found to be at higher risk of developing PTSD as a result of them facing threats to their well-being and being separated from their loved ones. 

The race is also another risk factor. Victims of racial discrimination have an increased risk of PTSD due to the physical and emotional effects of racism.

Frequently asked questions about the long-term effects of PTSD:

What is complex PTSD, and what causes it?

Complex PTSD,⁵ otherwise known as C-PTSD, is a disorder that involves a number of the symptoms of PTSD as well as additional symptoms. C-PTSD occurs when trauma is ongoing or has been repeated. 

The main difference between PTSD and C-PTSD is the frequency of the traumatic event/s. PTSD is generally caused by a single traumatic experience, while C-PTSD is caused by repeated, and sometimes long-lasting, traumatic events. C-PTSD often results from trauma that occurred during an individual’s childhood.

What treatments are there for C-PTSD?

Psychotherapy and medication are the best treatments for C-PTSD. Medications can be used to lessen the symptoms of C-PTSD, like depression or anxiety. 

Common medications used to treat this condition are antidepressants such as fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft). 

A common type of psychotherapy for C-PTSD treatment is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing⁶ (EMDR) therapy. It uses eye movements guided by the therapist to reframe and process memories of the traumatic event. 

This type of therapy claims to eventually decrease the negative feelings associated with the patient’s traumatic memories. 

What is verbal abuse?

Verbal abuse is emotional abuse and occurs when someone uses words to demean, ridicule, degrade, manipulate, or harass another individual. Verbal abuse can occur at any age and in any type of relationship, such as:

  • Parent-child relationships

  • Romantic relationships

  • Family relationships

  • Work/co-worker relationships

Verbal abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse. 

Does emotional abuse lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Verbal and emotional abuse can lead to C-PTSD.

When to seek professional help

If you or your loved one have been exposed to a singular or repeated traumatic event and are struggling with symptoms of PTSD, it is important to reach out for help from a healthcare professional with experience in treating PTSD. 

There are also a significant number of online resources for those with PTSD.

How to find a professional

If you decide to ask for professional help, it can be helpful to:

  • Ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health professional.

  • Ask family members and friends for their recommendations.

  • Call your local medical center or hospital and ask for the mental health professional.

Finding the right therapist can be difficult. It is important that they are suited to your needs. Ask them these questions:

  • What experience do you have with PTSD?

  • What approach do you take to PTSD therapy?

  • Do you accept my health insurance or have a payment plan?

  • How much do you charge per session?

  • What are your professional credentials? Are you licensed? 

There are also some questions you should ask yourself on the journey to finding the right therapist:

  • Did you feel like you could open up safely to the therapist?

  • Did the therapist treat you with respect and understand your experience?

  • Would you like to have another session?

If you meet with a therapist, this doesn't mean you have to keep going to them. You are allowed to find other therapists who may suit your needs better. It is fine to keep trying new therapists until you find the right person to help you.

What you can do

If one of your loved ones has been diagnosed or has symptoms of PTSD, there are many ways you can help them:

  • Be patient with them. Don't pressure them into talking about their traumatic experiences.

  • Encourage them to try out new hobbies or exercise with you.

  • Educate yourself about the symptoms and risk factors of PTSD.

  • Accept your loved one’s feelings.

  • Be a good listener if they decide to talk to you, and don't judge them for what they say.

  • Encourage them to speak to a professional.

The lowdown

PTSD can have severe long-term effects on people. But these effects don’t have to last a lifetime. If PTSD symptoms are dealt with by a healthcare professional, it can improve outcomes and decrease the severity of symptoms. 

A reliable support system can prevent those with PTSD from turning to substance abuse to cope with their problems. Drug and alcohol abuse is common in PTSD patients, which can further exacerbate PTSD symptoms.

The long-term effects of PTSD can cause significant stress to an individual's physical and emotional well-being, including their cardiovascular system. Getting support from friends and family is important and can help reduce stress and prevent PTSD symptoms from worsening.

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

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