When we experience an event that is shocking, dangerous, terrifying, or a combination of all three, it is not uncommon to feel afraid, both during the event and for a time afterwards. For some, however, this fear can create biological changes to the nervous system that impact an individual’s “fight or flight” response to any situation perceived to cause harm. The significant impact of traumatic situations can cause those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, to feel frightened even if they are not in danger. If you think you or a loved one may have PTSD from a life-threatening event, there are some important signs that can help you determine whether it may be time to seek treatment.

PTSD is an emotional illness that can develop after exposure to a terrible event or living through a terrifying experience that results in psychological trauma. Symptoms can arise in an individual within three months of a traumatic incident, but they may also begin years afterward.

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Individuals with PTSD may have flashbacks to the traumatic event, which may manifest as nightmares or frightening thoughts and memories, which sometimes makes them feel that they literally living through the event once again. Not uncommonly, they avoid places, people, things, or feelings that remind them of the traumatic event; they experience environmental triggers that bring them into a state of arousal that may include anger or anxiety; and their cognitive experience and moods shift in noticeable ways—including having negative thoughts, disinterest in previously enjoyable activities, and more.

One example of living through a shocking, dangerous and terrifying experience is when one has survived being sexual assaulted. The story of Nina illustrates how genetic testing, medication, and prolonged exposure therapy can be thoughtfully combined to result in her PTSD being cured.

A number of genetic variants are associated with PTSD, and can be detected and systematically addressed by a genetic test, through a simple cheek swab. The story of Marcy, one of our nation’s wounded warriors, illustrates how this precision psychiatry approach works.

PTSD can be an emotionally taxing experience. If the aforementioned symptoms sound familiar, it may be necessary to seek help to re-establish normalcy and wholeness in life. A consultation with our psychiatrists at Potomac Psychiatry can help you gain clarity about the path forward.