What is post-traumatic stress? - BlueStone Press
September 23, 2021

What is post-traumatic stress?

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Sidebar: What is post-traumatic stress?

Just about everyone experiences at least a flicker of post-traumatic stress at some point in their lives. Somebody runs a stop sign and you have to take quick evasive action, accompanied by a rush of adrenalin that you feel from toes to scalp. Later that day, remembering the moment, you re-experience a shadow of the feeling, and for the next few days you’re extra cautious about looking both ways.

Now imagine that you’re forced to take a 24-hour drive, and every third or fourth intersection involves a close call. When you reach your destination, you’d probably have to pry your fingers from the wheel and would not feel much like driving again anytime soon. If forced, you’d likely be in a cold sweat of agitation far beyond a little excess caution.

The Mayo Clinic defines post-traumatic stress disorder as “a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event – either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.” Symptoms may emerge within a month or years later.

The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD as a psychiatric disorder that develops in about 8 million people each year. It’s typically addressed through a combination of medication and talk therapy, and results are mixed.

But among those who devote their whole attention to the problem, a different view is emerging. There’s a growing call to change the name of this cluster of symptoms from PTSD to PTSI – post-traumatic stress injury – to destigmatize what many have come to understand as a physical condition resulting from severe, prolonged and inescapable stress.

During trauma, the body’s fight-or-flight response is activated and pumps epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, through the sympathetic nervous system. If trauma is severe or chronic, the mechanism can become “stuck” like a faucet that won’t turn off.

Many researchers and physicians are intrigued by the high success rate of a simple outpatient procedure, the stellate ganglion block, which has been used to treat chronic pain since 1925. During the procedure, an anesthetic is injected into nerve bundles located in the neck. This shuts down the sympathetic nervous system for about eight hours and, in over 80% of patients, seems to “reset” the fight-or-flight response to its pre-trauma state, providing lasting relief within an hour.

Although a recent peer-reviewed study from the U.S. Department of Defense was extremely promising, the procedure is not yet covered by insurance. It is, however, widely available at clinics for about $2,000 and has been performed on thousands of people, military and otherwise. You can find more information at thestellateinstitute.com and/or eraseptsdnow.org.

 

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