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Life events prior to deployment may determine the onset of PTSD

A recent study published in Psychological Science found that the likelihood of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be influenced by events that happen prior deployment.

A recent study published in Psychological Science found that the likelihood of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be influenced by events that happen prior deployment.

The study
The research, which was led by Dorthe Berntsen, Ph.D., of Aarhus University in Denmark along with Danish and American colleagues, analyzed 746 Danish soldiers. Five weeks before the soldiers left for Afghanistan, they completed tests and answered question, to determine if they had signs of PTSD and depression. They also completed a questionnaire on traumatic life events, such as childhood physical abuse and spousal abuse.

While in Afghanistan, the soldiers recorded how they felt in the battle zone, as well as being injured and killing someone. Once home, the soldiers then had follow-up analyses over the course of eight months.

The study was one of the only pieces of research to look at soldiers' emotions and life experiences before being deployed.

"Most studies on PTSD in soldiers following service in war zones do not include measures of PTSD symptoms prior to deployment and thus suffer from a baseline problem," said Berntsen. "Only a few studies have examined pre- to post-deployment changes in PTSD symptoms, and most only use a single before-and-after measure."

The results showed that nearly 84 percent of the soldiers were resilient and did not display PTSD symptoms post-deployment, while 4 percent of the subjects had minimal symptoms that gradually grew more severe over time. Another 13 percent of the soldiers showed an improvement in stress levels while in Afghanistan.

The researchers found that the soldiers who suffered from PTSD were more likely to have experienced violence in childhood, including physical abuse that resulted in bruises, cuts, burns and broken bones as well as witnessing family acts of violence or spousal abuse, in which they were attacked or stalked by their partner. The subjects who were less educated and had an experience in their past they would not divulge were also more susceptible to PTSD.

PTSD facts
According to the National Institutes of Health, genetic, physical and social factors can all contribute to the onset of PTSD. The condition adversely affects hormone levels and chemicals that travel through neurotransmitters. Certain symptoms include "reliving" the event, engaging in avoidance by being less receptive to the outside world, being startled easily and having difficulty concentrating.

Anxiety is another common symptom, which patients can help control with medications like Paxil. Other common emotional states include stress and tension. These can manifest physically through dizziness, fainting and headaches.

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