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Emotional Trauma from Surgery: Postoperative PTSD

Wednesday, 11 October 2017 06:00  by Allie R.

Surgery can be a traumatic experience for anybody, and emotional trauma after surgery is very common in surgical patients. During the preoperative stage, surgeons frequently ask for a psychiatric consultation for many common psychosocial problems like anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, personality disorders, schizophrenia and more. If a patient has or is prone to one of these disorders, it may increase the likelihood of them developing post traumatic stress disorder following surgery.

What Is Postoperative PTSD?

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the mental health condition that can be triggered by a disturbing or scary event, either experienced or witnessed. The symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks and rigorous anxiety as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the incident.

Postoperative PTSD is very common, especially after traumatic injuries. It’s most frequent in trauma surgery patients, such as victims of burns, vehicle collisions, industrial accidents or assaults.

Postoperative PTSD may result in social isolation, suicidal tendencies and thoughts, loss of interest in everyday activities, limited feelings and a low quality of life.

Common Types of Surgical Procedures That Cause PTSD

Surgeries following life-threatening situations or those that are particularly risky are more likely to result in Postoperative PTSD:

1. PTSD After Heart Surgery

Heart surgery is a major and traumatic event for your body to cope with, and it takes an effort from all systems for your body to heal itself after. Also, during the healing process, doctors and others are often focused on the physical component rather than the emotional — so how you’re feeling might go unnoticed. However, it’s not uncommon for patients to feel depressed and experience anxiety after a heart surgery, especially in relation to the surgery itself, pain experienced or post-operation issues. You might also notice that you feel jumpy, experience nightmares and worry excessively, even about everyday routines.

Additionally, if you have experienced heart problems before, you might be at higher risk of developing PTSD after heart surgery. In fact, patients who have experienced cardiac arrest have double the chances of developing postoperative PTSD over people who have experienced a less serious cardiac event.

2. PTSD After Spinal Surgery

Research shows that patients having major spine operations may suffer from PTSD after spinal surgery. Just like with heart surgery, your body can view the procedure as an invasive and traumatic experience. That means your systems are all on high alert to heal. Sometimes, it can get to the point where your body just can’t relax, leading to a hyper-arousal and symptoms of PTSD.

Additionally, a person having experienced any highly traumatic event in the past is more prone to developing postoperative PTSD after spinal surgery.

3. PTSD After Brain Surgery

Your amygdala, the almond-shaped mass positioned deep in the inner brain, is responsible for your emotions, memory and survival instinct. In intimidating situations, it increases the arousal and responses associated with the fear that activates the stress hormones.

When you experience brain surgery, it’s a trauma, and your brain remembers it — even if you don’t. Your amygdala often starts working overtime after the procedure, looking for threats in all directions to protect you. Anything your memory associates with the trauma can trigger jumpiness, panic attacks, or other symptoms associated with PTSD. You may also feel more emotional than normal or depressed, especially if you feel like no one understands what you are going through.

Tips for Dealing with Postoperative PTSD

Education is the key to coping with postoperative PTSD. Patients with a practical idea about what the process of surgery entails, and what to anticipate during the period of recovery, have a tendency to be mentally well-prepared. Patients who do not know what to expect are more likely to develop PTSD as a result of traumatic surgery. Leaning on your support system and collecting details from others who have experienced the same surgery can be helpful, too.

Maintaining a fit and healthy lifestyle before surgery may help in reducing the danger of postoperative PTSD. You can also schedule separate appointments before surgery to talk about concerns, ask questions and decide if surgery is actually the best option or if other treatments are available.

Treatment for Postoperative PTSD

If a surgery or other traumatic event in your life results in PTSD, there are some effective treatment options:

  • Group Therapy. Sharing your experience and describing the emotions you have surrounding it are a powerful means of processing those feelings and letting go of the trauma. A group of people who have experienced something similar can be very comforting. When you hear their stories, you realize you are not alone.
  • Outpatient Programs. If your PTSD is not too severe, an outpatient program can help you work through it and not require you to take time off work. Many people who struggle with PTSD need the added support of a PTSD recovery program to process their emotions and put their lives back together.
  • Inpatient Therapy. More severe cases of PTSD can make it impossible for you to carry out your regular routine. When flashbacks and anxiety attacks disrupt your sleep or keep you from going about your daily activities, you may need the consistent support of a residential treatment center.

Our highly trained staff at Brookhaven Retreat are well-qualified to diagnose PTSD in women and recommend the right level of treatment for your situation. Let us customize a comprehensive treatment plan for you at our tranquil property in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. Let the women-only retreat at Brookhaven be the safe, calming place to heal your mind and nurture your spirit.

Last modified on Tuesday, 10 October 2017 13:35

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