Can You Experience Post-Traumatic Stress after Surgery?
Mehment Oz; Michael Roizen, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The
Q: Ever since my mastectomy I've been a wreck -- I can't sleep and I'm distant from my kids and my husband. They say the cancer is gone, but I can't shake the fear. What can I do? - Lauren J., Montpellier, Vt.
A: You've been through a very stressful experience. It's natural to feel some turmoil. But the emotions you're describing may be more than the expected ups and downs of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment (and they're plenty distressing).
Turns out that 25 percent of breast cancer survivors, 20 percent of those who've had spinal fusion and many others who've been in intensive-care units exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as nightmares, anxiety, an exaggerated startle response, emotional detachment and flashbacks to unsettling moments (getting the diagnosis, going into surgery, etc.).
Illness-related PTSD develops from a combination of psychological upset (particularly among people who have a severe illness, additional health problems or are without economic resources) and purely physical trauma. Treatments and medications can disrupt the body's biochemical balance, throwing off hormone function, and interfering with neurotransmitter production, which can trigger bodywide distress.
Here are some tips to prevent and ease PTSD:
Try to express your worry as you feel it. If you're uncomfortable telling your family about your fears, enlist the help of a psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor.
If possible, continue to be physically active before and after your medical procedure or treatment. Exercise aids physical recovery and relieves mental stress.
Take up meditation. Just 10 minutes a day of mindfulness can give you the sense of peace you seek. (Soldiers with PTSD have found meditation to be a great help.)
And most important, talk with other people who have gone through what you're going through; there are support groups affiliated with hospitals and various breast cancer organizations.
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