Trucker MD
Post-traumatic stress disorder

By John McElligott, MD
with Jeffery Heinrich, Ed.D, PA-C

What is post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD? It’s defined as helplessness or intense fear caused by an event that has been experienced or witnessed. This could be a confrontation event, or the threat of injury or death, which may be real or perceived. Is it real? In our opinion, yes, as the types of memories that PTSD patients experience are real for them.

Is PTSD new?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is not new; it has been around forever. But today it has become a much-debated diagnosis that some do not believe exists. It is commonly defined as an anxiety disorder triggered by a traumatic event.

What triggers PTSD?
This memory, or flashback, may be triggered in a variety of ways. These stimuli include, but are not limited to, visual (sight), olfactory (smell), auditory (hearing) or neurologic stimulation (touch, pain, cold, heat). The specific stimulation triggers recollection of the event that one’s brain has stored.

Why is PTSD so intense?
So why does a person have this powerful recall of the unpleasant event? It is called an “adrenaline rush.” The more adrenaline released during an event, regardless of whether it is good or bad, the deeper the memory. In the latter case, the area of the brain will be the trigger for future memories, flashbacks, dreams, anxiety, insomnia, etc.

What are the typical symptoms of PTSD?
The symptoms of PTSD vary from person to person. There are three common categories within which PTSD symptoms lurk. The symptoms, which can be varied and are not always obvious to the untrained eye, are as follows:

  • Remembering a life-altering event that can be combat-related, or one of assault, abuse, rape or loss of self-esteem, or a feeling of helplessness/hopelessness. These types of events can bring on symptoms during the day with flashbacks that are an actual reliving of the life-altering event.
  • Avoidance where one steers clear of contact with others. Blunted emotion is displayed by the inability to show happiness or even sadness. These folks isolate themselves from others as much as possible.
  • Arousal exhibited by a hypervigilant state, where the individual reacts to noises, sounds or even smells. They also have difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep. Even more pronounced may be their startled response that can result in harm to themselves or others.

PTSD may present as depression, anxiety or sleep disturbance. Unfortunately, it can result in drug and/or alcohol abuse. Most practitioners do not know or elicit the history of a life-altering event in patients. Sadly, some practitioners don’t believe in PTSD.

Can a trucker develop PTSD after a bad crash?
Yes, and it’s more common than you might expect. Some drivers are more prone to PTSD than others depending on their adrenaline response. Even a near crash that could have been catastrophic can take a driver down into the hell known as PTSD.

What treatment has been most successful?
We believe that medications can be a bridge, but the best treatment is a good friend or support group. Medications are definitely needed for depression and severe anxiety at times. But beware of the “script writers” who spend five minutes with you and never take the time to become your doctor and adviser.

Have faith and find someone who is truly concerned about your well being and quality of life. LL