Epilepsy Talk

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Epilepsy | September 2, 2021

What was once known as “shell shock” is now called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (PTSD).

PTSD affects about 7.7 million American adults, and while it’s impossible to predict who will develop PTSD in response to trauma, there are certain risk factors that increase your vulnerability.

Of course, the first thought is of veterans. But anyone can get PTSD at any age.

Going through trauma is not rare. About 6 out of every 10 (or 60%) of men and 5 of every 10 (or 50%) of women experience at least one trauma in their lives.

Women are more likely to experience sexual assault and child sexual abuse. Men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or to witness death or injury.

It can result from a variety of traumatic incidents, such as mugging, rape, torture, being kidnapped or held captive, car accidents, train wrecks, plane crashes, bombings, attack, injury, or natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes.

People most likely to develop PTSD are those that:

Were directly exposed to the trauma as a victim or a witness…
Were seriously hurt during the event…
Went through a trauma that was long-lasting or very severe…
Believed that they were in danger…
Believed that a family member was in danger…
Had a severe reaction during the event and feeling apart from their surroundings…
Felt helpless during the trauma and were not able to help themselves or a loved one.

You are also more likely to develop PTSD if you:

Had an earlier life-threatening event or trauma, such as being abused as a child…
Have another mental health problem…
Have family members who have had mental health problems…
Have little support from family and friends…
Have recently lost a loved one, especially if it was not expected…
Have had recent, stressful life changes.

PTSD can affect those who personally experience the catastrophe, those who witness it, and those who pick up the pieces afterwards, including emergency workers and law enforcement officers. It can even occur in the friends or family members of those who went through the actual trauma.

While the symptoms of PTSD most commonly develop in the hours or days following the traumatic event, it can sometimes take weeks, months, or even years before they appear.

Some of these risk and resilience factors are present before the trauma and others become important during and after a traumatic event.

The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can arise suddenly, gradually, or come and go over time.

Sometimes symptoms appear seemingly out of the blue.

At other times, they are triggered by something that reminds you of the original traumatic event, such as a noise, an image, certain words, or a smell.

Signs and Symptoms

Flashbacks — reliving the trauma over and over, with physical symptoms like a racing heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating, bad dreams or frightening thoughts…
Difficulty in falling or staying asleep…
Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine…
Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing…
Avoidance symptoms — staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the terror experienced…
Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma…
Loss of interest in activities and life in general…
Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb…
Feeling alienated and alone…
Sense of a limited future (not expecting to live a normal life span, get married, have a career)…
Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry.

Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine.

For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.

Hyperarousal symptoms

Being easily startled and constantly on “red alert”…
Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts…
Feeling jumpy and easily startled…
Difficulty concentrating…
Feelings of mistrust and betrayal…
Depression and hopelessness…
Substance abuse…
Suicidal thoughts and feelings.

Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event.

They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.

It’s natural to have some of these symptoms after a dangerous event.

Sometimes people have very serious symptoms that go away after a few weeks. This is called acute stress disorder, or ASD.

But, going through a trauma does not mean you’ll get PTSD. Even though over half of us go through some type of trauma, a much smaller percent develop PTSD.

PTSD and the Military

Roadside bombs and other blasts have made head injury the “signature wound” of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Most combat veterans recover from mild traumatic brain injury, also known as concussion, but a small minority experience significant and long-term side effects.

If you are in the military, you may have seen combat. You may have been on missions that exposed you to horrible and life-threatening experiences.

You may have been shot at, seen a buddy shot, or seen death. These are types of events that can lead to PTSD.

Experts think PTSD occurs:

In about 30% of Vietnam Veterans, or about 30 out of 100 Vietnam Veterans
In as many as 10% of Gulf War (Desert Storm) Veterans, or in 10 Gulf War Veterans out of 100…
In about 11-20% of Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom), or in the range of 11-20 Veterans out of 100 who served in OEF/OIF.

The Next Steps for PTSD Research

In the last decade, rapid progress in research on the mental and biological foundations of PTSD has led scientists to focus on prevention as a realistic and important goal.

For example, NIMH-funded researchers are exploring new and orphan medications thought to target underlying causes of PTSD in an effort to prevent the disorder.

Other research is attempting to enhance cognitive, personality, and social protective factors and to minimize risk factors and ward off full-blown PTSD after trauma.

Still other research is attempting to identify what factors determine whether someone with PTSD will respond well to one type of intervention or another, aiming to develop more personalized, effective and efficient treatments.

As gene research and brain imaging technologies continue to improve, scientists are more likely to be able to pinpoint when and where in the brain PTSD begins.

This understanding may then lead to better targeted treatments to suit each person’s own needs or even prevent the disorder before it causes harm.

Also, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, in cooperation with Resurrecting Lives Foundation, are using advanced MRI technology and psychological tests to investigate the structural and biological impact of repeated head injury on the brain and to assess how these injuries affect cognitive function.

“Right now, doctors diagnose concussion purely on the basis of someone’s symptoms,” said Michael Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., associate director of Einstein’s Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center.

“We hope that our research will lead to a more scientifically valid diagnostic technique — one that uses imaging to not only detect the underlying brain injury but reveal its severity.

Such a technique could also objectively evaluate therapies aimed at healing the brain injuries responsible for concussions.”

An award-winning site for trauma information and support can be found at: http://www.trauma-pages.com/support.php

Other articles of interest:

IV Ketamine Rapidly Effective in PTSD http://www.medpagetoday.com/Psychiatry/AnxietyStress/45314?xid=nl_mpt_guptaguide_2014-04-17&utm_source=guptaguide&utm_medium=email&utm_content=mpt&utm_campaign=04|17|2014&userid=678261&eun=g5845718d10r

Commonly available blood-pressure medication prevents epilepsy after severe brain injury   http://www.sciencecodex.com/commonly_available_bloodpressure_medication_prevents_epilepsy_after_severe_brain_injury-132182

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  1. I’m in N Ireland, survived somehow our Irish terrorism right from the start, but there isn’t any acknologing of it in public health services, I only found I have it badly 2013, and the only help is given by charities. From what I’ve read, talked to others about it it could be causing several of my illnesses, including epilepsy which doesn’t follow the rule book but no one professional will consider it

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Gail Barry — September 2, 2021 @ 9:22 AM

  2. I’m sorry to say, if you were in the U.S. you might suffer the same treatment, or lack of treatment. 😦


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 2, 2021 @ 9:34 AM

  3. Especially relevant to readers of this blog is medical trauma; as described, for example, here: https://connect.springerpub.com/content/book/978-0-8261-2894-2/part/part01/chapter/ch01

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by HoDo — September 2, 2021 @ 11:12 AM

  4. Thank you HoDo. I suspect you know all too well.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 2, 2021 @ 11:16 AM

  5. When my sister-in-law was going through PTS (including legal), “When Someone You Love Suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress” was a useful reference.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by HoDo — September 2, 2021 @ 12:28 PM

  6. I find this an interesting topic myself…. as well, see major correlations to your previous article regarding “gaslighting”…… simply because when it comes to friends and family, like you mentioned, PTSD can become an issue in not just the person who dealt directly with the trauma, but also those dealing with the trauma indirectly!

    I’ve had friends tell each other that my seizures are “all in my head”…. which is like “gaslighting” me through each other…. almost like convincing each other that it’s okay to not worry about me to much, or be so concerned that it affects their lives for the worse!

    Or I will talk to friends about what I feel is PTSD within myself due to seizures or other traumas that I have dealt with and I just get, “I think you’re just being paranoid! You need to relax!”……. and I might respond with something like, “paranoia can be part of the PTSD!”……

    Or I might bring up things like my ex-wife and how she left, betraying me not just as her husband but also as my best friend! And I get responses like, “You really need to get over her! It’s been 14 years!”……

    I’m trying to be more honest with my friends, talk to them on a deeper level about my feelings, to get it out, be more healthy with that energy, and help myself in the rehabilitation process, but also to connect with others that might have dealt with similar traumatic experiences! And I end up just feeling more like I need to shut down, close myself off and not share!

    The rolling of the eyes, the nodding and smiling and quickly changing the subject…… it really is important that not just those dealing with PTSD are helped and treated with kindness and respect, but those who have never experienced a major trauma or PTSD themselves, directly or indirectly, to be educated surrounding these aspects of a persons life!

    Thanks again Phylis for posting another great article! Wish you all well, especially those on the East coast dealing with the storms, and those on the West coast dealing with the fires! Blessings!

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by Aaron Holmes — September 2, 2021 @ 6:51 PM

    • Would you say that not being acknowledged and/or accepted as someone with epilepsy is a form of trauma?

      The stress is there in so many forms of ignorance, uncaring, ridicule, shunning… I could go on and on. And I know that you could too.

      I just know that the way I was treated as a child was “distressing”. Would they call this “PTSD”? No. But I went through my own form of torture. To the point where I tried to kill myself.

      So, sometimes it’s the way others treat you. And I have to confess, sometimes it’s the way you treat yourself.

      But it’s always good to have a loving, believing soul on your side.

      That’s what got me through. I was one of the lucky ones.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 2, 2021 @ 7:27 PM

  7. I was recently triggered when a person I was interviewing made sexually explicit comments towards me. I started having flashbacks of my serious assault. I thought I was over it but i guess it never goes away.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Mary Ellen Gambon — February 2, 2022 @ 3:23 PM

  8. No. Like a bad penny, it keeps on coming back. If not in your waking hours, then in your nightmares.

    I’m so sorry, Mary Ellen. 😢


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 2, 2022 @ 4:23 PM

    • Thanks, Phylis! It was by a public official. I almost got my beat removed because of it. But my new boss stuck up for me. Why should I stop doing my job because someone else did something wrong!

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by megambon2164 — February 2, 2022 @ 5:03 PM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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