9 Things You Need to Know about Living with PTSD, a TBI or SCI
When you or a loved one experience a traumatic situation or suffer a life-altering injury, you’re suddenly thrown into an unfamiliar situation. If you’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or spinal cord injury (SCI), you could find yourself hospitalized for days, weeks, or months depending on the severity of your injuries.
When someone experiences post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), their perceptions, reactions, and emotional states are commonly affected. Although PTSD and TBI share common symptoms, they are separate diagnoses. There also can be some overlap between PTSD and spinal cord injuries, as suffering an SCI can lead to the onset of PTSD.
We’ve put together a list of nine of the top things you need to know when you or a loved one has a spinal cord injury or is living with PTSD and TBI.
What to Know about Living with PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health problem that people can develop after “experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault,” according to the National Center for PTSD. The condition was previously known by other terms like “shell shock,” “soldier’s heart,” and “battle fatigue” because those who experience war and battles frequently experience it. However, it is not limited only to people who serve in the military.
1. Effects or Symptoms of PTSD
Because no two people or their situations are the same, the symptoms of PTSD can last for varying lengths of time for each person. The signs of PTSD also can start even weeks or years after a traumatic event due to delayed onset. They also can come and go over a period of years or decades.
Some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder typically fall within four main categories (re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance, changes in mindset, and hyperarousal) and can include (but not be limited to):
- Restlessness or sleeping difficulties
- Nightmares and/or flashbacks
- Being easily startled, hypervigilant, or hyper-aware of surroundings
- Reliving the event when sights, smells, or sounds trigger the memory
- Adverse changes in beliefs or feelings
- Relationship avoidance or changes in feelings or attitudes toward others
- A belief that no one can be trusted
2. How to Treat PTSD
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), PTSD treatment options include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two treatments. While some people may respond to one or the other, others may require both methods. It’s essential to speak with a qualified mental health professional who has experience with PTSD to see which option works best for your symptoms.
The most commonly used psychotherapy treatment is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which makes the traumatic event(s) the focus of the treatment process, which can last typically between 12 and 16 weeks. The sessions aim to identify, understand, and change behavior and thought processes regarding the event and how you respond to it.
3. Where to Get Help with PTSD
If you have realized that you or someone you know needs help with PTSD, there are many mental health resources available. You can find trauma and PTSD therapists and peer support groups online, or you can get a referral from your primary healthcare provider.
If you’re in crisis and feel like you’re in immediate danger of hurting yourself or others, call 911, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline, or visit the nearest emergency room.
What to Know about Living with a Traumatic Brain Injury
A traumatic brain injury is a complex injury to the brain that is caused by an external force and can result in varying levels of severity. The tissue damage, swelling, or lack of oxygen to the brain can cause a variety of symptoms and disabilities.
1. Types of TBI
There are three categories of traumatic brain injuries:
- Closed Head Injuries. These are the most common types of TBI. They can result in the brain twisting, colliding and/or bounding within the cranial cavity due to rapid head movement and can cause contusions (bruising), internal bleeding, or damage to the nerve fibers.
- Open Wound (Penetrating) Injuries. These types of brain injuries are less frequent but can occur simultaneously with closed head injuries. These types of injuries, which can result from penetrating traumatic events such as stabbings, gunshot wounds, or even extreme sporting accidents, risk exposure of the brain through skull breakage.
- Crushing Injuries. These types of injuries result when the skull and brain are compressed between two objects. Damage to the base of the skull, cervical spine, and/or brain stem commonly occur from these types of TBI.
2. Effects or Symptoms of TBI
The types of TBI symptoms and level of severity can range from mild to severe, and depend largely on the individual situation and the treatment the person receives. In one situation, you could have a severe injury yet remain conscious and aware of what is happening, yet in another, you could lose consciousness but only have a relatively minor injury. For some, a brain injury is the start of a lifelong disease process that can’t be reversed.
TBIs can result in physical, cognitive, perceptual, or emotional/behavioral symptoms. A mild TBI can result in symptoms such as sensory alterations, lethargy, confusion, and blurred vision. A severe TBI, on the other hand, can result in pupil dilation, vomiting, seizures, temporary loss of consciousness, or rendering someone completely comatose.
3. Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment
The best course of action for TBI treatment depends on several variables, including the severity of the damage, how the acquired brain damage occurred, and which parts of the brain are affected by the injury. Immediate medical intervention is critical for moderate and severe cases, as brain damage frequently cannot be reversed and, in some cases, may lead to anoxic or hypoxic injuries due to oxygen loss.
Treatments for different types of brain injuries can include brain surgeries, brain scans and intracranial pressure monitoring, medications, mental health therapy, and support groups.
However, if someone you love has hit their head but isn’t demonstrating symptoms, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a TBI. Be sure to carefully monitor them in the hours following the injury, as some symptoms may have a later onset and may not manifest until hours later.
What to Know about Living with a Spinal Cord Injury
A spinal cord injury is that which results in damage to any portion of the spinal cord or the nerves at the base of the spine. The spinal cord itself is a series of nerve bundles that serve as part of your central nervous system — it is the communication superhighway between your brain and the rest of your body.
Automobile accidents and falls are the leading causes of spinal cord injuries, followed by acts of violence and sporting incidents, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC).
1. Types of Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries vary in severity depending on their location on the spinal cord and level of “completeness.” The spinal cord itself is broken down into five major sections that correspond to the vertebral segments of the spinal column:
- Cervical Spinal Cord Injuries. Damage to this section of the spinal cord, known as C1-C7, affects at least one of the first seven vertebrae running from the top of the spine, starting at the base of the skull.
- Thoracic Spinal Cord Injuries. Damage to the thoracic spinal cord means it affects at least one of the 12 vertebrae (T1-T12) that run from the base of the cervical spinal cord to the start of the lumbar spinal cord.
- Lumbar Spinal Cord Injuries. These types of injuries affect at least one of the five large vertebrae (L1-L5) leading down to the base of the spine. The spinal cord itself does not extend beyond this region.
- Sacral Spinal Nerve Injuries. Injuries to this section don’t affect the spinal cord itself, but rather the five nerve root segments. The sacrum itself has five separate vertebrae, labeled S1-S5, that fuse and lack the flexibility of other spinal column sections.
- Coccygeal Spinal Nerve Injuries. This section, the lowest of the spinal column, contains two vertebrae that frequently fuse in adults but only one spinal nerve bundle.
2. The Severity of Spinal Cord Damage
In addition to concerns about the level of the SCI on the spinal cord, the severity of spinal cord injuries also varies depending on your particular injury. Spinal cord damage commonly falls within two main categorizations:
- Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries. With these types of SCIs, the spinal cord is only partially damaged or severed, meaning that you or your loved one may retain some sensory or motor functions below the injury site and may be able to regain additional functionality with treatment in the future.
- Complete Spinal Cord Injuries. These injuries result in a severed spinal cord, meaning that sensory and motor function below the injury site is eliminated. However, it is essential to note that some complete spinal cord injury survivors can regain some lost function with treatment.
3. Types of Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Options
If you’re not sure what to expect concerning spinal cord injury treatment options, you’re not alone. However, knowing the level and the completeness of your injury will help your healthcare provider choose and discuss the best treatment option with you.
Treatments for spinal cord injuries can include:
- Physical Therapy (PT)/Physiotherapy
- Activity-Based Therapy (ABT)
- Mental Health Therapy
To learn more about spinal cord injuries, download our free guide by clicking on the image below.
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Spinal Cord Team