Spouses want to know: Physical Symptoms of PTSD

Hello again!

Our next question is, “Does PTSD have physical side effects?”

The answer is, yes, absolutely.

Now – before I get any further into this topic – I want to check in with how you’re doing reading this.

If you didn’t know about physical side effects, you might be thinking, “Great. As if PTSD wasn’t bad enough, now I’ve got a whole laundry list of physical issues to worry about too…

Hey – I hear you. What can I say – I’m not pretending to be the bearer of good news here.

But – you know what? This is your body we’re talking about. Knowing this means you’ll know what to expect, what to talk to your family doctor about. That gives you more control of your health than not knowing.

Also – knowing that it’s related to your PTSD can actually be a relief. Otherwise, you’re left thinking you have this laundry list of stuff going on and you don’t know why.

We’ve talked before about how PTSD is basically a threat-response reflex gone into overdrive. So, the physical symptoms of PTSD come from this reflex being cranked into overdrive all the time.

When your body responds to threat, your heart rate goes up. When you have PTSD, your ticker’s working harder all the time. This puts you at higher risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

Your threat-response reflex makes your muscles tense up, to help you either fight off a threat or run away. When your muscles are tense all the time, you can develop chronic pain, especially in areas like your shoulders and back. Tension also makes us clench our teeth; that can lead you to grind your teeth, meaning you might have chronic headaches and jaw pain.

Since your threat-response reflex directs all available energy towards survival, it shuts down functions that are not essential to dealing with an immediate threat. So, it will suppress your digestive system and your immune system, because these are not immediately essential when your survival is being threatened.

What this means is that PTSD can lower your immune system. You might be more likely to get infections and get sick more often.

The impact on your digestive system can mean chronic cramps or indigestion; changes to your appetite; chronic heartburn or Irritable Bowel Syndrome can also occur with PTSD.

Your threat-response reflex also leads your body to release more sugar and cholesterol into your bloodstream to feed your muscles; so, with PTSD you may have high cholesterol. Also, there is a link between blood sugar and insulin. So, there’s a link between PTSD and insulin resistance, as well as PTSD and diabetes.

How’re you doing with all this? I know… It’s quite the list of potential physical symptoms. It might be a good idea to make an appointment with your family doctor to get checked out for some of these risks.

Also, keep in mind that learning to manage your PTSD symptoms will help to lessen some of all these other concerns as well – so please keep in mind that things can get better.

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.


*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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