Post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) is a disabiling anxiety disorder, which was first diagnosed during the Civil War and later during World War I, as soldier's heart and shell shock respectively. It has been found that even those who are affected by cancer and their families as well can also experience it.
According to foodconsumer.org, PTSD affects about 10 percent of those exposed to extreme psychological trauma, such as combat, torture, abuse, physical attack, sexual attack, severe accident, natural disaster or life-threatening illness.
People who suffer from the disorder re-experience the trauma in nightmares or intrusive thoughts. Many avoid reminders of the trauma location. Many become emotionally numb or show hypersensitivity to other events by doing things like getting startled easily.
Israeli and U.S. researchers have found relatively short periods of stress induced changes in mouse brain neurons that lasted for weeks and made them hypersensitive -- in a way also characteristic of people suffering long-term effects of traumatic stress.
In a study published in Science, the researchers said stress causes a shift in gene products -- called mRNAs -- by producing an unusual variant of the acetylcholinesterase or AChE protein. The variant protein AChE-R interferes with the transmission of nerve impulses that can affect memory and behavior.
Stress caused by a traumatic event can result in the production of the variant protein for a long time.
Most memories decay naturally, but people under extreme stress pump an abnormal amount of stress hormones during the traumatic event, so the memories are stored differently.
However, in the past few years there has been a greater recognition that some with cancer, as well as members of their families, can also have PTSD.
The gold standard for treating PTSD has been exposure therapy -- the patient tells his or her story over and over again after exposure to reminders of the triggering traumatic event, according to Kathryn L. Bleiberg, an instructor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and professional associate at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell in New York City.
However, revisiting dreadful events can be painful, and it might keep some PTSD patients from seeking therapy, Bleiberg said.
Many patients also suffer from interpersonal dysfunction -- a lot of these traumas are interpersonal traumas and with PTSD people have difficulty trusting. They are overly on guard, overly self-protective, emotionally hard to connect and it's hard to have relationships. A lot see themselves as damaged; they can be easily angered and have difficulty getting along with people.
John C. Markowitz, clinical professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Bleiberg examined the effectiveness of interpersonal psychotherapy, or IPT, a form of talk therapy that focuses "not on the past trauma, but on dysfunctional relationships in the here-and-now" and PTSD.
In the pilot study 14 subjects were treated by IPT over a period of 14 weeks. At the end of the 14-week therapy, 12 of the 14 participants no longer met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.
"It's an alternative therapy for patients who don't want to have to focus on the trauma that affected them so badly to begin with, and it has a finite period of time -- we can see results in a finite period of time, said Bleiberg."