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Which Medications Can Treat PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often associated with soldiers who return from war. While soldiers and other military personnel are affected, the condition can happen to anyone who experiences a traumatic event. 

A stress response to natural disasters, violent experiences, or accidents is normal. It’s when this response to trauma is heightened and leads to physical and mental stress that interferes with normal coping behaviors that it becomes problematic.

A majority of adults will experience at least one traumatic event in their life, but most will not develop PTSD as a result. A relatively small percentage of individuals will develop PTSD, but the data shows that the disorder may be more common than thought.

An estimated 70 percent of adults will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Twenty percent of individuals who experience a traumatic event will go on to develop PTSD. Unfortunately, an estimated 8 million people develop PTSD each year, while one in 13 people will develop it at some point in their life. Statistics also show that one in nine women will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Women are twice as likely as men to develop the condition.

It’s necessary to mention that PTSD can happen to anyone, and it is not a sign of weakness. Varying factors may increase the odds that someone develops the disorder, and many are not in a person’s control. If you are injured or directly exposed to trauma, you could develop PTSD. Overall, nearly 3.5 percent of the U.S. population will be affected, which translates to about 8 million Americans every year.

Trauma-based stress may affect all areas of someone’s life, including their emotional, mental, and physical well-being. PTSD can potentially develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal that includes threatened or actual death, sexual violence, or severe injury. 

Exposure includes witnessing the trauma, directly experiencing an event, or learning about a close friend or family member experience a violent or accidental occurrence. Prolonged trauma may disrupt or alter brain chemistry.

Those who develop PTSD may wonder whether medicine can help them cope with their disorder. Below, we explain the disorder in more depth and talk about relief medications can provide.

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

The Mayo Clinic describes post-traumatic stress disorder as a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event. As mentioned above, you can either experience or witness the event to develop the condition. The symptoms can include nightmares, flashbacks, or severe anxiety that cripples the individual. You may also experience uncontrollable thoughts about the event that took place.

Most of those who go through traumatic events will have temporarily struggle with coping or adjusting. Over time, and with some good self-care, their condition will likely improve. However, if symptoms worsen and disrupt your daily functioning, you may be struggling with PTSD, which can last for months or even years.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD may start within one month after a traumatic event, but in some cases, the symptoms will not appear until years after the event. The symptoms are grouped into four types: intrusive memories, adverse changes in thinking and mood, avoidance, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Symptoms will vary over time from person to person.The most common symptoms include:

  • Reliving the trauma over and over, which includes physical symptoms like racing heart or sweating
  • Terrifying thoughts
  • Nightmares
  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that remind you of the experience
  • Trying to avoid thoughts relating to the traumatic event
  • Being tense or on edge
  • Inability to sleep or having angry outbursts
  • Negative thoughts about yourself or the world
  • Feeling guilty or like you’re to blame
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide as a result of a traumatic event, you must seek help right away. If someone mentions suicide, you should always take it seriously and reach out for help.

Which Medications Are Used to Treat PTSD?

People who have PTSD usually experience symptoms for one to three months, but chronic PTSD can be much different. Symptoms may last for more than three months after exposure to trauma. In some cases, they can for last years.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the only medications the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved for treating PTSD are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), sertraline (Zoloft, Pfizer), and paroxetine HCl (Paxil, GlaxoSmithKline). 

Other medications used are Pexeva, Noven, which are chemically similar to Paxil, but not FDA-approved to treat PTSD. SSRI drugs affect neurotransmitters like serotonin, which regulates anxiety, mood, appetite, sleep, and other bodily functions.

SSRIs are associated with a response rate of 60 percent in those with PTSD, and 20 to 30 percent of patients will achieve complete remission. In clinical studies, Zoloft was much more effective than placebos. 

If you are struggling with PTSD, you must speak with a medical professional. You may be placed on different medication, depending on your symptoms. Each case is unique and should be treated as such.

Sources

Alexander, W. (2012, January). Pharmacotherapy for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder In Combat Veterans: Focus on Antidepressants and Atypical Antipsychotic Agents. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3278188/

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (2018, July 6). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967

VA.gov: Veterans Affairs. (2018, September 13). Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_adults.asp

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