Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Shell-shock!!!  Haven’t we all felt extreme stress at some time in our life.  But, during most of the 20th Century wars, soldiers were sentenced to death or ridicule as they were considered to be cowards. We now know that many of them were suffering from PTSD.  Today, the mechanisms of PTSD are being unravelled and it is known to be a dysregulation in many biological systems in the body which affect the mind.  Initially PTSD starts as a normal stress response to great danger. It would appear that if this danger involves intentional harm by another person the PTSD response may be exaggerated. Most people cannot tolerate this feeling and they will find some way to explain it, self medicate  (usually with alcohol, food or drugs) or to deny its existance.

By way of a brief (and wholly inadequate explanation), PTSD is about a dysregulation that occurs, following extreme disruption, in the primary cortimmunestress hormones of the body, adrenalin and cortisol. However, cortisol also has a significant effect on the immune system. PTSD appears to result primarily from this interaction. But like everything, its not so simple because it would appear that in some individuals there is an increase in cortisol secretion and in others a decrease in cortisol secretion while some, possibly due to genetics or life history, have no real change at all. 

So how does PTSD, which we think of as a mind disorder, result from this bodily stress response.  What we know now is that, the endocrine and immune systems play havoc with neurotransmitter production by the alteration of an enzyme called IDO.  This change may “break” neuronal connections which can result in the person feeling depressed or manic and result in people labelling them as  “psychologically” affected by the trauma.  I believe its important to realise that stress alters our physiology, which we as humans with access to language, try to make sense of by putting the stress  into words to explain the reactions we are experiencing which are not initially “psychological” per se.


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