Ask the Doctor
Adrianne Bowen, MD
Medical Director of Surgery and Trauma at CentraCare Health - Monticello
Understanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma
Question: A friend is having nightmares after a car accident. Is this common?
Answer: The diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was first developed in 1980. Initially, this was thought to be most prevalent in survivors of catastrophic events such as war, torture or large natural disasters including earthquakes, hurricanes or volcanic eruptions. Much of the initial research in PTSD was done in Vietnam Veterans. As Veterans have returned from each successive conflict, we have learned more and more about PTSD symptoms and treatment options.
More recently, it has been recognized that any kind of trauma can lead to the diagnosis of PTSD – motor vehicle accidents, assault, sexual assault and falls to name a few. This is an important distinction that needs to be recognized within the community so that all aspects of the post-trauma patient can be treated. While it is essential to set the patient’s broken bones and clean out the wounds, it is equally important to address any potential symptoms of PTSD in trauma survivors.
PTSD symptoms can include nightmares and intrusive daytime memories, avoidance strategies such as avoiding triggers than can remind them of their trauma, negative mood/cognition changes including believing the world is entirely dangerous or “out to get me,” insomnia, hypervigilance, startle reflexes, frank paranoia, irritable or angry outbursts, and finally reckless or self-destructive behaviors.
Trauma in general is a common event. Six out of ten men and five out of ten women will experience some sort of trauma in their lifetime. Motor vehicle accidents have become a very common source of trauma in our everyday lives. One percent of the population is involved in a serious motor vehicle accident that causes personal injury every year. By the time a person reaches 30, over 50 percent of the population has experienced at least a minor motor vehicle accident. Just because one is involved in an accident does not guarantee they will develop PTSD. About seven to eight percent of the population will develop PTSD at some point in their lives and about eight million adults experience PTSD each year.
At CentraCare Health – Monticello, our trauma team participates in continuous education to enhance the care we provide for trauma patients and also help support those who we recognize with potential symptoms of PTSD. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, please contact your primary care provider for support services.