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Differences Between Acute Stress and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Updated on February 15, 2019
differences between these anxiety disorders
differences between these anxiety disorders

An aid to distinguish between these two types of disorders linked to anxiety.

It is good to understand that there are important differences in terms of stress levels and the origin of stress. In this article we will clarify what are the differences between acute stress and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

To clearly establish the differences between these two types of stress, we will first see a summary of each of them, and then we will go on to establish the specific differences that exist between them.

What is acute stress?

This type of stress occurs in the subject after having experienced some type of adverse circumstance in his life or after witnessing the misfortune of another person. For example, some car accident, a particularly difficult breakup of a couple, etc.

It has a lot of similarity with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, since the symptomatology is almost the same. One of the most significant differences between acute stress and post-traumatic stress disorder is, however, the prevalence of these symptoms in the person.

In general, the symptoms of acute stress disorder usually last between three days to a maximum of one month. The intensity of stress and its consequences on the general health of the subject will depend on the severity of the event that has occurred. The seriousness of it is subjective (the severity depends on the perception that the subject gives the event).

The symptoms are characterized by the presence of intrusive thoughts, which are related to the negative experience they experienced, causing the person to feel threatened in certain situations that remind him of the event, even when the context does not represent a real threat.

Other symptoms can be:

  • Affective lability (sudden and rapid changes of mood)
  • Affective flattening (Emotionally insensitive)
  • Alterations of consciousness (feeling that they are not real)
  • Difficulty maintaining concentration
  • Sleeping problems
  • Recurring dreams related to the traumatic event

To establish the diagnosis of this disorder, the intensity and prevalence of these symptoms in the subject must be evaluated. These must be intense enough to affect at least three significant areas in the subject's life.

Regarding the prevalence, it must be expressed between the three days and the month; after this period the symptoms should begin to decrease naturally.

What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is characterized by intense feelings of anguish and concern in situations that for the affected person represent a similarity or are related to some traumatic event that has happened in their life, and even just remembering what happened .

As with acute stress disorder, in this case the subject presents intrusive thoughts related to the trauma experienced in the past, and levels of anxiety that intensify in situations that the person identifies as similar to the trauma in question.

For example, a subject who has ever had a car accident could develop post-traumatic stress disorder; Which would generate a sense of fear on some occasions when he thinks of cars.

The intensity of the anguish must be sufficient to affect three areas of the person's life, but in this case the prevalence of symptoms is usually greater than one month. In the most intense cases, the symptomatology could last up to one semester.

Differences between PTSD and acute stress

Below we will see a list of differences between acute stress and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

1. The time when symptoms appear

While in acute stress the characteristic symptomatology begins shortly after having suffered the traumatic event, in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder symptoms begin after at least a month has elapsed.

It could happen that before presenting the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder the person shows the symptoms of acute stress, but it would not be until after one month that the intensity of the symptoms begins to be significant.

2. The prevalence of symptoms

In cases of acute stress, the symptomatology begins to diminish after a month, and it may happen that the subject overcomes his trauma and can face the situations that remind him of the traumatic event.

With regard to post-traumatic stress, the prevalence of symptoms is greater, and may last for 6 months, depending on ndiendo of each case.

Final consideration

To conclude, it can be said that the most determining differences between these two types of stress are the onset of symptoms and the duration of symptoms in the patient.

The treatment for both cases is similar. This includes psychotherapy sessions with the subject and family members. Cognitive-behavioral therapies are one of the most implemented in these cases, and can be combined with the administration of some anxiolytic indicated by the doctor.


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