Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have far-reaching effects on a person’s health if left untreated. Typically, when an individual has a medical condition such as a sore throat or a stomachache, it’s easy to pinpoint and treat. PTSD, however, isn’t as easy to spot or treat. Its impact and symptoms can vary from one individual to the next. In this article, we’ll discuss the effects of PTSD and how it can impact a person’s health if left ignored.
PTSD is a mental health condition rooted in anxiety that forms in response to one or more traumatic events.
PTSD varies in severity, length of time, and symptoms.
Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD.
If left untreated, PTSD can increase in severity over time and last for years, up to a lifetime.
Untreated PTSD is associated with additional mental and physical health conditions.
How PTSD begins
PTSD is a mental health condition rooted in anxiety. Its symptoms form in response to witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. Such incidents may include physical or sexual violence, or anything that causes a person to feel scared. What constitutes a traumatic event varies, since each person has a different threshold for threats to their physical and/or emotional safety.
For this reason, not every person who witnesses or experiences trauma will develop PTSD. This condition depends on the unique individual and certain factors they possess, such as:
- Level of resiliency.
- Personal belief system.
- Environmental conditioning.
- Reaction and exposure to trauma.
- Biological factors.
The symptoms of PTSD tend to arise in response to a traumatic event. There are a series of brain malfunctions that occur in reaction to this trauma. These effects can cause a distressing memory to return unexpectedly as the brain relives an event as if it’s happening for the first time.
Additional symptoms of PTSD
In addition to reliving one’s traumatic experience — something referred to as a flashback — PTSD can also cause a person to display symptoms such as nightmares, triggers in response to fear of real or perceived danger, and intrusive memories that aren’t as realistic as flashbacks.
This fear of experiencing future trauma can cause someone to avoid thinking and talking about their experience. Someone with PTSD may also avoid going to specific locations, engaging in certain activities, or interacting with people who might trigger memories of the event. This can create a cycle of avoidance, negative thoughts, and unstable mood patterns. Since these are persistent and problematic, they can interfere with a person’s ability to function.
When symptoms are left untreated
The symptoms of PTSD tend to appear between three months and one year after the traumatic event. When ignored, the symptoms can persist for years or through the rest of a person’s life. They can cause changes to their physical and emotional reactions and can grow in intensity over time.
In addition to extending the duration of symptoms, untreated PTSD can cause a person to experience:
- Chronic pain.
- Autoimmune diseases.
- Social withdrawal and isolation.
- Decreased performance at work and school.
- Difficulty forming and sustaining relationships.
- Emotional numbness and outbursts.
- Substance use disorders.
- Skin, digestive, heart, urinary, nervous system, and sleep conditions.
Overall, those who experience PTSD have a less than optimistic view of their quality of life.
PTSD treatment options
There are a variety of evidence-based therapies and interventions that can help relieve the symptoms of PTSD, including:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
- Group therapy.
The treatment method and duration needed to combat the symptoms of PTSD vary from one individual to the next.
Ignoring symptoms of PTSD will not make them go away. As you’ve learned today, this can prolong the symptoms and cause them to worsen over time, as well as impact other areas of one’s physical and mental health.
If you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from symptoms of PTSD, it is important to seek help as soon as possible to avoid the long-term effects of untreated PTSD.
- NIH. Consequences of Untreated Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Following War in Former Yugoslavia: Morbidity, Subjective Quality of Life, and Care Costs.
- NIH. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- Cambridge University. Comparing the efficacy of EMDR and trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy in the treatment of PTSD: a meta-analytic study.
- SpringerLink. Psychological distress and quality of life are improved in autoimmune patients through Tandem-Psychotherapy, combining individual hypnosis and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) treatment for trauma, followed by supportive-expressive group therapy.
- NIH. Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services.
- American Psychological Association. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
- APA PsycNET. Untreated combat-related PTSD: Why some Israeli veterans do not seek help.