Differences between acute stress and post-traumatic stress disorder

At some point we all got to present stress levels. This is to a certain extent normal in everyday life, as sometimes routine and the unexpected generate this experience.

However, it is good to understand that there are important differences in terms of stress levels and their source. In this article we will deal with clarifying what are the differences between acute stress and post traumatic stress disorder.

To make it clear what the differences are between these two types of stress, we will first look at a summary of each of them, and then move on to establishing the point differences that exist between them.

    What is acute stress?

    This type of stress occurs in the subject after experiencing some kind of adverse circumstance in your life or after witnessing someone else’s misfortune. For example, a car accident, a particularly difficult breakup, etc.

    It is very similar to post-traumatic stress disorder because the symptoms are almost the same. One of the most significant differences between acute stress and post-traumatic stress disorder is the prevalence of these symptoms in the person.

    In general, symptoms of acute stress disorder usually last between three days and a maximum of one month. The intensity of the stress and its consequences on the general state of health of the subject will depend on the severity of the event that has happened to him. The severity of this is subjective (the severity depends on the perception that the subject gives to the event).

    Symptoms are characterized by the presence of intrusive thoughts, Which are linked to the negative experience they have had, causing the person to feel threatened in certain situations that remind him of the event, even when the context does not constitute a real threat.

    Other symptoms may include:

    • Affective lability (sudden, rapid mood swings)

    • Affective flattening (emotionally insensitive)
    • Alterations in consciousness (Feeling that they are not real)
    • Difficulty maintaining concentration
    • Sleep reconciliation problems
    • Recurring dreams related to the traumatic event

    To diagnose this disorder the intensity and prevalence of these symptoms in the subject should be assessed. These must be intense enough to touch at least three important areas of the subject’s life.

    As for the prevalence, it must be expressed between three days and one month; after this period, symptoms should begin to decrease naturally.

    What is post-traumatic stress disorder?

    Post-traumatic stress disorder is characterized by intense feelings of anxiety and worry faced with situations which for the person concerned represent a similarity or are linked to a traumatic event that has happened to him in his life, and even when facing the simple fact of remembering what happened.

    As with acute stress disorder, in this case the subject presents intrusive thoughts related to past trauma, And levels of anxiety that intensify in situations that the person identifies as similar to those of the trauma in question.

    For example, a subject who has been in a car accident in the past could develop post-traumatic stress disorder; Which would give you a feeling of fear at times when you think of cars.

    However, the intensity of the anxiety should be sufficient to affect three areas of a person’s life. in this case, the prevalence of symptoms is usually higher per month. In the most intense cases, symptoms can last up to a semester.

    Differences between PTSD and acute stress

    Below is a list of the differences between acute stress and post-traumatic stress disorder.

    1. When symptoms appear

    While in acute stress, the characteristic symptomatology begins shortly after experiencing the traumatic event, in post-traumatic stress disorder the symptoms they start after at least a month.

    It may happen that before developing post-traumatic stress disorder, the person has symptoms of acute stress, but it is only after a month that the intensity of the symptoms begins to be significant.

    2. The prevalence of symptoms

    In acute stress, symptoms begin to subside after a month, and the subject may overcome their trauma and may face situations that remind them of the traumatic event.

    Regarding post-traumatic stress, the prevalence of symptoms is higher, and can last up to 6 months, depending on each case.

    final consideration

    In conclusion, we can say that the most decisive differences between these two types of stress are onset of symptoms and their duration in the patient.

    The treatment for both cases is similar. This includes psychotherapy sessions with the subject and his relatives. Cognitive-behavioral therapies are one of the most used in these cases, and they can be associated with the administration of certain anxiolytics indicated by a doctor.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Bisson, JI, Cosgrove, S., Lewis, C., Robert, NP (2015). Post-traumatic stress disorder. BMJ. 351: h6161.
    • Herman, JL (1992). Complex PTSD: Syndrome in survivors of prolonged and repeated trauma. Traumatic Stress Journal. 5 (3): 377-391.

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