Researchers have discovered some exciting new medical advances that may make identifying PTSD easier than ever. This ongoing research is excellent news for those who experience trauma and the practitioners who treat them.
What is PTSD?
PTSD, short for post-traumatic stress disorder, is an anxiety disorder that impacts upwards of 11% of the population at some point in their lives. PTSD can be acute, occurring directly after an extraordinarily frightening or possibly life-threatening event (such as a school shooting, a physical attack, or a car accident). It can also be a chronic condition with long-lasting effects experienced after prolonged trauma, such as childhood abuse or wartime service.
Depending on the type of trauma, PTSD can impact someone for months, years, or even their entire life. Sometimes, extensive therapy and medical intervention are required to manage the symptoms of PTSD.
Common Signs of PTSD Include:
- Irritability, mood swings, and anger outbursts
- Nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and flashbacks
- Impulsivity and high-risk behavior
- Sleeping disturbances
- Suicidal ideation
- Intense feelings of anxiety or unease
- Sensitivity to loud noises, bright lights, and other strong stimuli
Many people with PTSD will turn to self-medication techniques, like drugs and alcohol, to manage their symptoms. This often creates new and complicated problems and comorbidities, making PTSD even more challenging to diagnose and manage.
Why PTSD Is Difficult to Identify and Treat
Because PTSD is quite common and we know some of the typical symptoms and precursors, what are the barriers to treating this disorder?
Many people with PTSD, particularly veterans, don’t want to feel “weak” or seem incapable of handling their mental health, so they don’t seek help or support. Often, those who have PTSD will assume it’ll pass and don’t want to make a big deal out of their symptoms. This “white knuckling,” particularly among veteran communities, can lead to years of prolonged suffering.
Often, PTSD is diagnosed using a questionnaire (typically the CAPS-5) and a screening from a trained mental health professional, typically a therapist or doctor. The questions discuss a range of symptoms and experiences pertaining to the anxiety disorder to help determine the best diagnosis and course of treatment.
While the CAPS-5 is generally reliable, there may be human variations in how questions are interpreted from practitioner to practitioner. There is also the possibility of the patient over-reporting, under-reporting, or misunderstanding the questions. Even when trained and knowledgeable professionals administer these questionnaires, their ability to be implemented accurately depends on precise self-reporting, which doesn’t always happen.
Lack of knowledge about PTSD
While some may be aware of what post-traumatic stress disorder is and how it can impact people long after the traumatic incident, many are still in the dark about it. This can prevent them from seeking out help.
The Complexity of the Disorder
PTSD is different for everyone. Many people can experience the same traumatic event and respond differently based on their genetics, social support, and other factors. Symptoms may take a long time to appear or could come and go sporadically. Because of the complexity of the disorder and the variety of ways it can manifest, many people with PTSD may not recognize the need to reach out for help.
The New Advancements in PTSD Detection
As mentioned above, while the CAPS-5 test for identifying PTSD is the gold standard, it is subject to human error and interpretation. This might soon be changing. Recently, researchers who work in the field of post-traumatic stress disorder have discovered a series of biomarkers that could help identify PTSD in the blood. This could mean more accurate and reliable screening and faster treatment access for individuals who suspect they may have the anxiety disorder.
Biomarkers are chemical indicators in the blood that can be observed and measured. Researchers have found distinct biomarkers associated with post-traumatic stress disorder after testing and studying 1,000 United States military service people. Military members and veterans often have much higher rates of PTSD than their civilian counterparts (some studies indicate that upwards of 20-30% of enlisted and formerly enlisted have PTSD).
This technological advancement could be fantastic news for people living with PTSD who are seeking relief from the incredibly harmful effects of the disorder. While research is ongoing, there is reason for the medical and mental health communities to feel hopeful that these advancements will help diagnose and treat PTSD faster and easier than ever.
The idea that, soon, a simple blood test could help determine whether or not somebody is suffering from PTSD leaves many in the medical and mental health community looking forward to the further results of this ongoing research. Veterans and their practitioners are particularly excited because the debilitating effects of PTSD so profoundly impact the military and veteran communities. Former military members are often at much higher risk for suicide, substance abuse, and other mental health issues, and this could be one step in the right direction toward alleviating those issues.
While the research into the biomarkers associated with PTSD is still ongoing, there is plenty that you can do right now. If you suspect you or someone you love is grappling with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, reach out to a trained mental health practitioner today to discuss your options.
If you’re in the San Diego area and would like to speak to a mental health practitioner with experience working with the veteran community, contact Confidential Recovery today. If you’re elsewhere in the United States, contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness hotline at 1-800-950-6264 for more resources.
Scott H. Silverman
Scott H. Silverman is a high-profile expert on addiction and recovery, making frequent public and media appearances for the last 40 years. He is the author of The Opioid Epidemic, and the Founder and CEO of Confidential Recovery, a San Diego substance abuse treatment center specializing in helping Veterans and First Responders get and stay sober.