Acute Stress Disorder – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Acute stress disorder (ASD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by a cluster of dissociative and anxiety symptoms occurring within one month of a traumatic event. (Dissociation is a psychological reaction to trauma in which the mind tries to cope by “sealing off” some features of the trauma from conscious awareness). Acute stress disorder develops within one month after an individual experiences or sees an event that involved a threat or actual death, serious injury or another kind of physical violation to the individual or others, and responded to this event with strong feelings of fear, helplessness or horror. Psychiatric trauma, or emotional harm, is essentially a normal response to an extreme event. It involves the creation of emotional memories about the distressful event that are stored in structures deep within the brain. In general, it is believed that the more direct the exposure to the traumatic event, the higher the risk for emotional harm.

Acute stress disorder is caused by exposure to trauma, which is defined as a stressor that causes intense fear and, usually, involves threats to life or serious injury to oneself or others. Examples are rape, mugging, combat, natural disasters. Symptoms of stress disorder include a combining of one or more dissociative and anxiety symptoms with the avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event. Dissociative symptoms include emotional detachment, temporary loss of memory, depersonalization, and derealization. A person may be described as having acute stress disorder if other mental disorders or medical conditions do not provide a better explanation for the person’s symptoms. Anxiety symptoms connected with acute stress disorder include irritability, physical restlessness, sleep problems, inability to concentrate, and being easily startled.

Causes of Acute Stress Disorder

1.Airplane crashes.

2.Terrorist bombings.

3.Inner-city violence.

4.Hit or harmed by someone in your family.

5.Domestic abuse.



8.Physical or sexual assault.

Symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder

There are four main types of Acute Stress Disorder symptoms. First is Re-experiencing the trauma: flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive memories and exaggerated emotional and physical reactions to triggers that remind the person of the trauma. Second is Emotional numbing: feeling detached, lack of emotions (especially positive ones), loss of interest in activities. Third is Avoidance: avoiding activities, people, or places that remind the person of the trauma and last is increased arousal: difficulty sleeping and concentrating, irritability, hypervigilance (being on guard), and exaggerated startle response. First, symptoms can be produced by re-experiencing the trauma, whereby the individual can have distressing recollections of the trauma. For example, the person may relive the experience as terrible dreams or nightmares or as daytime flashbacks of the event.

The second way that symptoms are produced is by persistent avoidance. The avoidance refers to the person’s efforts to avoid trauma-related thoughts or feelings and activities or situations that may trigger memories of the trauma. This so-called psychogenic (emotionally caused) amnesia (loss of memory) for the event can lead to a variety of reactions. The third way that symptoms are produced is by an increased state of arousal of the affected person. These arousal symptoms include sleep disturbances, irritability, outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, increased vigilance, and an exaggerated startle response when shocked.

Treatment of Acute Stress Disorder

1.Cognitive behavioral therapy is the treatment that has met with the most success in combating ASD. It has two main components: First, it aims to change cognitions, patterns of thought surrounding the traumatic incident. Second, it tries to change behaviors in anxiety-provoking situations.

2,Psychological debriefing and anxiety management groups are two other types of therapy that have been examined for the treatment of ASD. Psychological debriefing involves an intense therapeutic invention immediately after the trauma, so that traumatized individuals can “talk it all out.”

3.anxiety management groups, people share coping strategies and learn to combat stress together. However, both types of therapy have proven to be largely ineffectual for the treatment of ASD.

4.Drug treatment is aimed at relieving fear and anxiety and restoring normal sleep patterns. Tricyclic antidepressants, such as Tofranil and Elavil, or SSRIs such as Prozac or Zoloft, are helpful.