Most folks are familiar with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Well, they are familiar with the standard representation of the condition. For example, they will probably associate it with returning war veterans. This makes sense since about 20 percent of those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan will be diagnosed with PTSD.
We know about the mental toll such people face. In addition, the connection between homelessness and suicide is widely discussed. As terrible as all of this is, it is not the full story. People with PTSD may struggle with a wide array of physical symptoms. This connection is crucial to understand.
Some PTSD Basics
Whenever someone endures a terrifying or disturbing experience, there is the potential for trauma to the place. When it does and the traumatic event is not fully resolved, PTSD can often set in. The common and more widely known psychological symptoms include:
- Flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts
- Hyper-vigilance, edginess, and fits of anger
- Avoidance, withdrawal, and social isolation
- Depression, anxiety, and mood changes
As mentioned above, PTSD also takes a physical toll.
What You Need to Know
Traumatic events trigger our fight, flight, or freeze response. PTSD keeps us in this state. Thus, the unnecessary hormones (like cortisol and adrenaline), chemicals, and altered blood flow impact how our physical selves function. For example, the blood flow to your brain gets stuck in a mode that would be appropriate only in a brief crisis. When it becomes chronic, the person is at risk for high blood pressure.
Individuals who have been diagnosed with PTSD are at a higher risk of ailments like stroke, dementia, and heart disease. They also have a lower life expectancy. There is a parallel issue that compounds this trend. PTSD can trigger other mental health conditions, like:
- Substance abuse
All three of these disorders can, in turn, cause negative physical symptoms. Let’s consider some of the more common issues.
Some of the Physical Problems That Can Be Caused By PTSD
- Dry mouth and dry skin
- Sweaty palms and other signs of external stress
- Feeling warm or flushed
- Ice cold hands and feet
- Ringing in the ears
- Headaches and migraines
- Digestive issues (including stomach pain, nausea)
- Weight fluctuations
- Elevated heart rate
- Chronic fatigue
- Loss of concentration and focus
- Back pain
- Chronic, general, and unexplained body aches, joint pain, and overall muscular tension
- Obesity (which, of course, can set off a broad range of other physical problems)
- Compromised immune function (including allergies)
Remember, even if the danger is imagined, the pain is real. The physical discomfort is real. All of the above symptoms require attention in combination with getting treatment for PTSD.
How Therapy Can Help
First and foremost, PTSD is not something to be treated with self-care. It requires the support of a health professional. Therefore, it only follows that committing to therapy is a valuable and necessary step towards healing. In addition, bearing in mind the above information, therapy is an important source of context and information.
Your weekly sessions are the ideal setting to discuss any physical concerns you may have. As you can now see, there is a strong probability that they are at least partially related to the trauma you endured. Working with a skilled and experienced therapist is the proper setting to start learning more.
You don’t have to suffer in silence. There are many, many effective treatment options for PTSD. These modalities can help you transition into a life free of the emotional and physical distress caused by past trauma. Let’s get that process started. I invite you to read more about trauma treatment and reach out for a consultation.