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Acute Stress Disorder: Causes, Symptom, Treatment and Can Acute Stress Disorder Be Prevented?

What is Acute Stress Disorder?

Acute stress disorder is a mental health condition that occurs after a traumatic event, within a month. It leads to a range of psychological symptoms. If not treated it can further lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.

It shares the same symptoms with post-traumatic stress disorder. But, unlike post-traumatic stress disorder, acute stress disorder is a temporary condition. Its symptoms last for 3-30 days after the traumatic event. (1)

If someone experiences the symptoms for more than a month, they are assessed for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Causes of Acute Stress Disorder

Experiencing one or more traumatic events can lead to an acute stress disorder, as it leads to physical, emotional, and psychological harm.

The possible traumatic events include:

  • A natural disaster
  • Death of a loved one
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Sexual assault, rape, or domestic abuse
  • Suffering from a terminal illness
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • The threat of death or serious injury

A few factors that may increase the risk of acute stress disorder include:

  • Previously traumatic event
  • Being female
  • Being younger than 40 years of age. (2)
  • History of mental health disorder
  • History of dissociative reactive to the past traumatic event

Symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder

The symptoms of acute traumatic stress disorder are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.

The symptoms include:

  • Intrusion Symptoms: A person continually revisits the traumatic events through flashbacks, memories, and dreams.

  • Negative Mood: A person may have negative thoughts, low mood, and sadness.

  • Dissociative Symptoms: There may be an altered sense of reality, lack of awareness of surroundings, and inability to remember parts of the traumatic event.

  • Avoidance Symptoms: People may avoid thoughts, feelings, places, and people associated with the traumatic events.

  • Arousal Symptoms: There may be insomnia, sleep disturbance, difficulty in concentrating, irritability and aggression. There may be a feeling of tension or guard and the person may get startled easily.

There may be the development of additional mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Anxiety may lead to the following symptoms:

  • Excessive worrying
  • Restlessness
  • Racing thoughts
  • A feeling of impending down
  • Fatigue

Depression may include the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Crying unexpectedly
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Persistent feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or numbness
  • Suicidal thoughts

Diagnosis of Acute Stress Disorder

A mental health professional helps in diagnosing acute stress disorder. He takes the history of traumatic events and symptoms. If there are 9 or more symptoms of this condition occurring for one month, the diagnosis is given. If the symptoms are for more than a month, post-traumatic stress disorder may be indicated.

To diagnose acute stress disorder, a healthcare professional may need to rule out:

  • Other psychiatric disorders
  • Substance use
  • Underlying medical condition

Treatment of Acute Stress Disorder

The treatment for acute stress disorder focuses on meeting individual needs. It aims at reducing symptoms, improving coping mechanisms, and preventing post-traumatic stress disorder.

The treatment options include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: It is recommended as the first line of treatment. It involves working with a mental health professional and developing coping strategies.

  • Mindfulness: These techniques help in managing stress and anxiety. It includes meditation and breathing exercises.

  • Medication: Antidepressants and anticonvulsants are prescribed to treat symptoms.

Can Acute Stress Disorder Be Prevented?

It is not possible to avoid experiencing a traumatic event, but there are ways to reduce the risk of acute stress disorder. These include:

  • Seeking help from family and friends
  • Consulting a doctor post the traumatic events
  • Getting treated for any other mental health condition
  • Working with a behavioral coach for developing effective coping techniques
  • Getting proper training, if the job involves chances of or high risk of exposure to a traumatic event.

The acute traumatic disease is not a rare condition. It can occur to any person after a traumatic event. It is important to address the condition so that it does not progress to post-traumatic disorder. The help of friends and family can be taken to help a person process feeling and move on in life.

Also Read:

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 20, 2022

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