Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Physical Effects of Trauma

Bear with me here... In my next series of blog entries, I will explore the physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral effects of trauma and PTSD, one by one. Then, I will share some helpful techniques.

Physical effects of trauma:
1.) Immediate response: Restlessness, hypervigilance, sleep issues, generalized anxiety, inability to relax, shallow breathing, fatigue and an exaggerated startle response at trigger events, sudden noises and/or unexpected touch.

Can also include headaches, backaches, TMJ, skin complaints such as itching or rashes and unintentional weigh loss.

2.) Weeks following a traumatic experience: Body remains on alert, reacting to neutral cues in the environment as if they are dire warnings, threats of annihilation.

3.) If chronic post-traumatic stress sets in: Survivors often manifest functional diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, interstitial cystitis, and myofacial, lower back and pelvic pain.

What happens to the body during a traumatic event?
1.) Blasted by biochemicals: The body has a built-in reaction to physical threat.

A small structure within the brain called the amygdala is the storehouse of emotional memory, and it is instantly activated when we sense danger. Interestingly enough, laboratory rats with surgically-removed amygdala are fearless. They are also vulnerable and reckless, with very short life spans.

The amygdala does not wait for instructions from the conscious, thinking portions of the brain to act. It has an enormous capacity to commander our brains, and override the neocortex (which is designed to analyze detailed information and formulate an apporopriate response).

The amygdala jolts the hypthalmus, which produces a hormone called CRF, which signals the pituitary and adrenal glands to flood the bloodstream with stress hormones: epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol.

This results in hyperalertness, a flood of energy and the "fight or flight response."

Endorphins are released as well. These are our body's pain-killing neurotransmitters. They ensure our physical survival by making sure that pain doesn't interfere with our ability to act immediately.

2.) Freeze response: This is the immobility response. When an animal is overtaken in the wild, fight-or-flight seems pointless and there is nothing proactive that can be done to save the day. So, the animal collapses and becomes limp, even before it is seized.

At this point, the body receives even more pain-killing endorphins to inhibit wound-licking and other behaviors that could interfere with one last-ditch, life-saving effort on the animal's part.

The body has rebounded from the tension of alarm to its polar opposite: the state of near-paralysis. Tense muscles relax, blood pressure takes a step dive and the racing heart slows down to a crawl.

In the wild, this can help the animal by "playing possum" or by preventing a painful death. If the animal (or person) survives, this biochemical overload has an aftereffect. Almost all animals start to shudder and tremble, to perspire for several minutes and then to take a series of short deep breaths.

Rabbits can do this several times in one day, and shake it off afterwards. People differ from animals in that we don't automatically discharge the biochemicals. It's been hypothesized that we humans don't shake, perspire or take enough deep breaths afterward.

3.) Disassociation: When people freeze, they also disassociate. They "flee the scene" psychically by becoming emotionally disconnected from what is happening.

Afterwards, people tend to blame themselves for their detachment, and assign a negative meaning to it.

Naparstek, Belleruth. Invisible Heroes. NY: Bantam Bell, 2004.


Blogger Nancy said...

physical trauma leads to severe side effects. so it is essential to consult an urgent care provider.

12:47 AM  

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