How PTSD Affects the Body

Person struggling with PTSD.

Most people recover from trauma, no matter how harrowing or life-threatening the experience was. However, the effects of trauma might last a lifetime for certain people.

If you suffer from PTSD, you are not alone. About 3.5 percent of adult Americans develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) every year. At the same time, the APA estimates that one in every eleven people who have suffered or witnessed trauma will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point.

Most Common PTSD Symptoms

If you have PTSD, you may experience intrusive and disturbing memories of the traumatic event, anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. You may also struggle with alcohol and substance abuse, sudden mood swings, sleep problems, and impulsive or self-destructive behavior. In addition, you may try to avoid everything that reminds you of trauma. PTSD symptoms can make it difficult or impossible to go about your daily life, feel good about yourself, and find life meaningful.

The Physical Effects of PTSD

In addition to psychological symptoms, you may experience various physical health problems related to PTSD. The impact of PTSD on your body should not be underestimated since understanding the signs can help you seek the proper treatment and begin recovering from

So, here is how PTSD affects the body.

Sleep Problems

Disturbed sleep is one of the main PTSD symptoms. PTSD can make you feel hyperaroused and always on the lookout for danger. This can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. In addition, PTSD-related nightmares can make it hard to achieve restful sleep.

Cardiovascular System

PTSD can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular conditions such as cardiovascular disease and hypertension. This is because PTSD triggers an intensified stress response in the body, similar to what you experienced during the traumatic event (the fight-or-flight response). Because trauma doesn’t make the body forget this feeling, the nervous system becomes overly alert or sensitive to danger.

The body’s stress response activates the sympathetic nervous system, releasing the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which can lead to a persistent elevation in blood pressure. Consequently, this excessive activation of the stress response may result in heart arrhythmias
and an increased risk of heart attacks.

Excruciating Migraines

If you survived or witnessed trauma, you may experience severe migraines. Even at night, excruciating pain can cause nightmares that make it impossible to relax.

Eating Disorders

Post-traumatic stress disorder often manifests through abnormal eating patterns and unhealthy relationship with food. So, eating disorders are about much more than just food and eating. As a result of PTSD, you can experience changes in your diet and appetite, leading to rapid weight loss or obesity. You may also start avoiding food or consuming excessive amounts of food with or without purging afterward (binge eating and bulimia).

Immune System

The ongoing release of stress hormones can also affect your immune system, suppressing its function and making you more vulnerable to illnesses and infections. As a result, you may experience chronic pain conditions or autoimmune disorders.

Help and Healing

Every person responds differently to a traumatic event. Your PTSD symptoms can develop slowly, even over the years. Also, PTSD is a mental health condition that does not go away without treatment.

The evidence-based treatments such as trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) have proven to reduce PTSD symptoms, provide coping strategies, and help integrate trauma in your life experience.

So, if you struggle with any symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, psychotherapy might help. A qualified psychotherapist who specializes in PTSD can help you address trauma, work through your painful experience, and begin to heal and move on.