Acute Stress Disorder: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnoses and Treatment

Acute Stress Disorder is a new psychological diagnosis. People who suffer from acute stress disorder have experienced a terrifying event. Depending on how it occurs, the experience may be direct or indirect.

Direct experience, for example, might involve being severely injured, or even witness violence, or what might feel the threat of death. Several indirect exposures can occur through witnessing another person behave in a certain way or hearing about other people experiencing certain behaviors.

A person with PTSD re-experiences the trauma mentally, avoids things that remind them of it, and their anxiety increases as a result.

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What is Acute Stress Disorder?

Anxiety disorders such as Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) may develop in the weeks after an emotionally traumatic event. People with this illness frequently experience ASD because of a traumatic event within one month.

ASD may last up to a month, but usually lasts three days or less. Many ASD patients experience symptoms similar to those experienced by those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Causes of ASD

Traumatic events can trigger ASD when experienced, witnessed, or being confronted. This may result in overwhelming fear, helplessness, or horror.

Several traumatic events can lead to ASD, including:

  • Death
  • The danger of self-destruction or death to others
  • The threat of self-inflicted serious injury or harmful impact on others
  • Danger to one’s own or others’ physical integrity

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs suggest that 6 to 33 percent of individuals who experience a traumatic event develop Acute Stress Disorder. This rate can differ depending on how traumatic the situation is.

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Risk Factors for ASD

People who have experienced a traumatic event can develop ASDs. A cause for ASD that may increase your risk is:

  • Traumatic event has been experienced, confronted or witnessed by you
  • An ASD or PTSD history
  • A history of mental problems of a certain nature
  • History of symptoms of dissociation during traumatic episodes

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Acute Stress Disorder Symptoms

Acute Disorder Symptoms
Acute Disorder Symptoms

ASD includes the following symptoms:

Dissociative symptoms

When you have ASD, you will have at least three dissociative symptoms:

  • Being emotionally unresponsive or numb
  • Your surroundings no longer concern you
  • The derealization process occurs when you perceive your surroundings as strange or unreal
  • You experience depersonalization, in which a person’s thoughts or emotions suddenly seem unreal or unrelated to him or her
  • When you do not recall any of the significant aspects of the traumatic event, that is dissociative amnesia

Experiencing the trauma again

People with ASD will persistently relive the trauma in one or more of the following ways:

  • Having nightmares, flashbacks, or recurring images from the traumatic event
  • Experiencing a traumatic event over again
  • Being distressed when something triggers the memory of the traumatic event

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There are some things you should avoid that cause you to recall or relive the traumatic event, such as:

  • People
  • Conversations
  • Places
  • Objects
  • Activities
  • Thoughts
  • Feelings

Excessive arousal or Anxiety

Anxiety and increased arousal may increase the symptoms of ASD. The following are the symptoms of increased arousal and anxiety:

  • Sleep difficulties or insomnia
  • Feeling Irritated
  • Not being able to concentrate
  • Feeling restless or incapable of sitting still, or being unable to stop moving
  • A constant sense of tension or being on alert
  • A sudden startle at inappropriate times or a sudden startle too easily


People with ASD may experience some degree of distress or disruption in their social or work lives, and the symptoms of their disorder will affect them negatively. A traumatic event may prevent you from starting or completing necessary tasks or hinder you from telling anyone about it.

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How it is Diagnosed?

Your doctor or mental health professional can diagnose the symptoms of ASD by asking you questions about the traumatic experience and your symptoms. The following causes must also be eliminated:

  • Drug abuse
  • Medication side effects
  • Health issues
  • Other mental illnesses

Treatment of Acute Stress Disorder

The following strategies may be used by your doctor for ASD treatment:

  • Psychiatric examination to discover your specific needs
  • You should be hospitalized if you are at risk of harming yourself or others
  • Locating family members and assistance in getting shelter, food, clothing, if it is necessary
  • You make you aware of your disorder through psychiatric education.
  • Anti-anxiety medication, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and antidepressants are commonly prescribed to relieve symptoms of ASD
  • The cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which may make it easier for people with Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) to recover.
  • Exposure-based therapy
  • Hypnotherapy

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Long-term Outlook

PTSD is often associated with individuals with ASD. When a person suffers from symptoms of PTSD that persist for more than one month and cause a significant amount of stress and disability to their lives, they can be diagnosed with PTSD.

PTSD may be reduced if you receive treatment. Nearly half the cases of PTSD are resolved within six months, while some PTSD cases keep going for years.

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Is it possible to prevent ASD?

ASD cannot be prevented because there’s no way to ensure that you’ve never experienced a traumatic episode. However, It is possible to do certain things to lessen the risk of developing ASD.

You may have a lower chance of developing ASD if you get medical treatment soon after experiencing a traumatic event.

ASD risk can reduce through preparation training and counseling for people working in jobs such as military personnel who are at a high risk of traumatic events. Upon experiencing a traumatic event, these individuals may benefit from preparation counseling and training.

Fake enactments of traumatic events can be used in preparation training and counseling for coping mechanisms.

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