Concussions Can Trigger PTSD Symptoms

You don't need to be a veteran or lose your home to have PTSD symptoms.

Posted Jul 27, 2018

Did you know that it may be quite common for athletes to have symptoms of PTSD after a concussion?   

Fear triggers a host of changes in the body within seconds that can linger after the danger is past. After a big shock, it's normal to experience some symptoms associated with PTSD. They might even be acute. However, to be diagnosed with PTSD, the symptoms need to last for longer than a month.

The most obvious sign is “re-experiencing” the trauma in some way, with flashbacks, bad dreams, or fearful thoughts.

In a small study of athletes who had suffered a concussion and filled out questionnaires within 13 days, nearly 13 percent reported "flashbacks" and 8 percent nightmares. Close to 18 percent checked off "Having trouble keeping thoughts of incident out of your head."

People with PTSD change their behavior to avoid reminders of the trauma. A mother who lost a son might avoid driving by his school or seeing his friends on the street. In the concussion study, more than 19 percent confessed to "avoiding similar situations."  

Psychiatrists also look for evidence that your emotional state has become more unsettled, even without reminders. You might be jumpy, fly into rages, or develop insomnia. Nearly 26 percent of the athletes had “difficulty sleeping" after the concussion. 

PTSD affects your ability to think and your mood. You might blank out on details of the trauma. You might seem depressed, guilty, ashamed, or detached from friends, family, and your usual pleasures.

In “acute stress disorder,” symptoms like these are serious but go away within a month. If they last longer and affect your ability to function—and can’t be explained by substance abuse or another cause—you might have PTSD.

Even in areas that endure a disaster, most people do not develop PTSD.  You’re more vulnerable if, like veterans, you see a dead body, see other people hurt or suffer an injury. Other risk factors are a history of mental illness or substance abuse or trauma as a child. An increase in stress after the event—for an athlete, that may be if you're pushed into playing again too quickly, or feeling ashamed of not playing.

You can protect yourself by seeking support, drawing lessons from the event, and feeling good about how you respond to the challenge.  

The main treatments for PTSD are medications and talk therapy, ideally with someone who understands PTSD, and for at least six weeks. You’ll need to learn how to identify triggers and ways to manage anger or relax. You may also need to address other issues like abusive relationships or bad habits that existed before the trauma but are making it more difficult to recover.

Anti-depressants can help PTSD symptoms. Although not currently FDA-approved for this purpose, Prazosin may be helpful with sleep problems linked to PTSD.

In therapy, you might be urged to face your fear by imagining the event or returning to the place where it occurred. You'll also be invited to talk though some of your ideas about the event. It's common to remember details inaccurately or feel inappropriate shame or guilt.

You’ll help yourself recover by taking steps to live more healthily in general: exercise, set and meet realistic goals, and spend time with people who care about you.

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