What is the difference between acute ptsd vs chronic PTSD?

Disclaimer: This article is not for diagnosis purposes. It is mainly a general overview article about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Everyone experiences trauma differently. But regardless of our stressors, many of us find ourselves reliving the harsh event through flashbacks, intrusive memories, and nightmares. Whenever we’re experiencing these emotions, we may assume that these feelings are symptoms of PTSD. 

However, we should never assume our condition without consulting a mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis. There are many types of anxiety disorders with similar symptoms. Before we jump to conclusions, we can take some time to learn about PTSD: 

Acute PTSD and Chronic PTSD

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in individuals who have experienced a traumatic event. It can be a single traumatic event or recurring ones.

Some examples: living through a natural disaster, war, sexual assault, child abuse, a car accident, historical trauma, complex trauma, substance abuse domestic, violence, chronic trauma, and bullying. There are many other examples of traumatizing occurrences which can emotionally and physically impact others. 

However, even if a person has indirectly experienced or witnessed a close friend go through a traumatic event, they may also be at risk for PTSD as well. 

In the end, anyone can experience PTSD at any time, regardless of how long it has been since the event occurred. 

PTSD: General Overview 

Researchers and doctors haven’t exactly pinpointed the root causes of PTSD.

Some say that PTSD is a result of a combination of factors, including inherited mental and physical symptoms, life experiences, and the individual’s biological hormones. However, the diagnosis is heavily dependent on the situation. 

The commonality is that people with PTSD often have challenging and disturbing thoughts, emotions, or feelings related to the traumatic event. They may experience flashbacks, sadness, fear, or anger. Moreover, some may experience disassociation from themselves and others. 

These flashbacks can be triggered through similar experiences or senses. For example, someone may walk into a store and be triggered by the surroundings around them.

Moreover, other people can experience flashbacks of the event through smells such as perfume scents and other odors. 

Additional symptoms of PTSD

In order to avoid triggers, those who experience PTSD may avoid situations or challenges which remind them of the event. For example, they might decide to keep themselves busy to cope, or try to forget about the details of what happened. 

What to Remember: 

PTSD can occur in all people, at any age or time. Statistically, PTSD affects around 3.5% of American adults every year. 

These rates are said to be higher in adolescence, from ages 13 to 18, with 18% of youth saying that they have experienced PTSD. 

Moreover, PTSD is statistically higher in women than men. There also tends to be a racial disparity: Latin-Americans, African-Americans, and Native Americans have higher rates of PTSD than non-Latino whites. 

woman in therapy

What Is The Difference Between Acute PTSD and Chronic PTSD?

PTSD is classified according to different types. Two types are acute or chronic PTSD.

The main differences between the two types are about duration. Acute PTSD is when symptoms of PTSD last less than three months. On the other hand, chronic PTSD is when symptoms last more than three months. 

Acute PTSD is not to be confused with Acute Stress Disorder (ASD): these are two different types of mental health disorders

Acute Stress Disorder usually occurs after experiencing the traumatic event for a month. The symptoms of asd are similar to PTSD, but the time period differs. There does seem to be a connection between the two though, as research has discovered that 80% of people with ASD can experience PTSD after six months. 

When individuals are diagnosed with chronic PTSD, they may have experienced the symptoms longer. 

Moreover, since individuals with chronic PTSD have experienced symptoms longer, they may notice that their quality of life is impacted more. This can affect personal and professional relationships. When someone who is diagnosed with PTSD continues to think about the event at work, they may become distracted on the tasks or experience a loss of interest and motivation. 

In addition, if someone wants to safeguard their emotions, and continues to do so for a longer period of time, they may start to become disinterested in daily activities

However, these attitudes often lead to difficulty in navigating personal relationships. When experiencing PTSD, some may notice that they have a lot of challenging and difficult feelings towards others. They may find it difficult to trust anyone, as no place to them feels safe. So, healthy relationships will be more challenging and time-consuming to develop for those suffering from PTSD.

How is PTSD Diagnosed

PTSD is diagnosed through two steps: a physical exam, and a psychological evaluation.

Throughout the session, doctors may ask questions regarding historical and personal experience of trauma, symptoms, and the significance or impact of the event. 

After these steps, the doctor will then analyze the results according to the diagnostic criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – 5). 

The DSM-5 Criteria has eight sections, which cover the exposure of the traumatic event, the repeated traumatic experience, avoidance symptoms, negative thoughts, hyperarousal and reactivity, and the impact of the symptoms. 

Additionally, symptoms of the event have to affect a person for longer than a month in order to receive a diagnosis of PTSD. 

How is PTSD Treated?

PTSD treatment involves different types of psychotherapy, which include cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). These therapies are provided by specifically trained mental health professionals

Throughout the session, the therapist may help in terms of reframing thoughts by allowing the survivor to process traumatic events in a different manner, and breaking the repeated patterns of negative thinking. 

These approaches can also help someone to recognize their fears of the distressing event, and find different coping mechanisms to combat them, and tools to work the a physical or emotional response.

Moreover, your healthcare provider may prescribe medication if a patient has more than two mental health diagnoses, and are experiencing sleep problems. 

The medication is usually an antidepressant, which includes serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Serotonin is a molecule which creates a feeling of happiness. So SSRIs can help treat feelings of depression or grief by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain. 

However, there are other treatment options which are available to an individual’s different needs and preferences. 

Art therapy has proven to be helpful for those struggling with PTSD. Instead of verbalizing the experience, drawing and painting can help many people express their emotions and process thoughts. 

Other than art therapy, some other alternatives are dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), narrative therapy, and inner child work. 

Self-Care 

Regardless of the medication and the support from mental health providers, it’s also important to take care of oneself throughout the healing process after a ptsd diagnosis. 

There are many different forms of self-care, but some have found that keeping a journal or trying grounding techniques have been effective. These techniques can help a person identify their feelings and recognize patterns, which will allow them to process their emotions and cope with flashbacks. 

Moreover, having some private time and space is also important to process difficult events. Having time alone allows someone to decompress their emotions and reflect on their thoughts. 

However, talking about the event with others can also be helpful. It may be difficult to open up at first, but speaking to a friend and family member can allow those diagnosed with PTSD to feel validated with their emotions and thoughts. 

In the end, going through trauma is a challenging and tough process. But self-care can help survivors of posttraumatic stress disorder recognize their feelings and thought patterns, and reframe them. 

sad woman

In Summary: What To Know About PTSD 

PTSD is a mental health condition which continues to be prevalent. The triggers and causes of PTSD are vast, as there are many different types of traumatic events. 

Moreover, there are different types of PTSD as well. However, regardless of the types, many ptsd symptoms and emotions which people experience are often similar. 

Coping through PTSD is challenging for many. But with therapy, medication, peer support, and other resources, many may find it easier to identify their emotions and recognize them. 

So, if you’re experiencing symptoms of PTSD, you should never feel that your experiences are invalid. The process of healing is difficult, so give yourself some time and space. 

No one should minimize your emotions because in the end, you know your emotions the best.

About the Author

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Candice is currently attending school for social service work. One of her passions is helping others through my writing. In her downtime, you’ll find her listening to music, watching random YouTube videos, and writing about career goals and resumes. She hopes to start freelancing for writing and obtain a leadership position in a public services sector.