ASD/PTSD After a Traumatic Injury

At the MarinHealth Medical Center Trauma Center, we see our share of car accidents, bad falls, severe burns and other serious injuries. Our first priority is to do everything we can to treat the injured person and help them heal. However, a traumatic event can leave mental and emotional wounds–the type of injury that cannot be addressed in the operating room. Because this is uncharted territory for most people, they don't necessarily know what to expect after a traumatic injury. That’s why, in keeping with our philosophy of treating the whole patient, mind, body, and spirit, we offer care for trauma patients who develop Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) and/or PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

ASD and PTSD: What is the difference?

Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)
It’s only natural for a traumatized individual to experience distress and have difficulty processing what has just happened to them. However, if this emotional state lasts for more than three days, acute stress disorder is a real possibility and professional evaluation, care, and support may be needed. ASD occurs within the first month following a traumatic incident. While everyone’s individual experience is unique, ASD is diagnosed based on various combinations of the symptoms below:

  • Flashbacks and/or frequent thoughts or memories about the traumatic event.
  • Nightmares
  • Depressed mood
  • Negative thoughts
  • A feeling of being constantly on edge.
  • Disassociation. This is a feeling of being disconnected from yourself and your surroundings. Some people feel like they are watching themselves as though they were another person.
  • Memory loss – blanking out for a period of time or being unable to recall certain aspects of the traumatic event.
  • Avoidance of people, places, or situations reminiscent of the traumatic incident
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Irritability
  • Guilt over not being able to move past the traumatic event.

Untreated, acute stress disorder can significantly impair a person’s ability to function and interact with others, even within their own family. While ASD does not necessarily progress to PTSD, research has demonstrated that more than 80% of untreated people with ASD eventually develop PTSD. Early intervention and treatment help prevent that.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Unlike ASD, which develops soon after a traumatic event, PTSD can begin within the first three months or much later–even years after the traumatic event. PTSD can also occur in people who have never had ASD. The symptoms of PTSD for the most part echo those of ASD:

  • Flashbacks and/or frequent thoughts or memories about the traumatic event.
  • Nightmares
  • Depressed mood
  • Emotional numbness
  • Loss of interest in activities the person previously enjoyed
  • Avoidance of people, places, or situations reminiscent of the traumatic incident
  • A feeling of being constantly on edge
  • Hyperarousal–sleeplessness, hyper-vigilance, irritability, angry outbursts, being easily startled
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Memory loss – blanking out for a period of time or being unable to recall certain aspects of the traumatic event.
  • Persistent negative beliefs about the self, others, and the world
  • Feeling detached or estranged from loved ones
  • Persistent inability to experience positive emotions
  • Reckless or self-destructive behavior
  • Poor sleep

PTSD is a serious condition that, if untreated, can last a lifetime. People who suffer from PTSD may experience family problems and have difficulty functioning at work. They are also at an increased risk for suicide.

Get the Help You Need

If you think you may be suffering from PTSD or ASD, you need to be assessed by a mental health professional. Addressing ASD early can prevent the progression to PTSD. MarinHealth Medical Center has a robust Behavioral Health Program offering both inpatient and outpatient care. A variety of community resources are also available to provide care and counseling.