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Saturday, February 22, 2020

Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


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Oluwafemi Michael
Oluwafemi Michael is an online Mental Health Therapist, Advocate for Mental Health Awareness, a programmer, and also a content creator from Edo state, Akoko-Edo LG.

Acute stress disorder may develop a few weeks after a traumatic event. This is an anxiety disorder that can be triggered in a person within a month of a traumatic experience.


Acute stress disorder or ASD can last for up to three days or more, depending on the severity of the trauma and the people involved. People experiencing ASD have symptoms that are similar to people experiencing PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder).


Witnessing, experiencing, or being confronted with one or more traumatizing events can lead to acute stress disorder. These events can create intense horror, fear, of helplessness in a person.

Traumatic events that can result in acute stress disorder may include;

  • Accident
  • Death
  • The threat of death to yourself or someone close to you
  • The threat to your integrity or of those close to you
  • The threat of fatal injury yourself or to people close to you

According to the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 6 – 33 percent of people who have had a traumatic experience develop ASD. However, the rate differs depending on the nature of the traumatic experience.

Who can be affected by ASD?

Anybody can develop acute stress disorder after a traumatic event. There is an increased risk if you;

  • Have a history of PTSD or ASD
  • Have a history of some mental health complications
  • Have witnessed, experienced, or confronted with a traumatic event from your past
  • Have a history of conditions such as dissociative symptoms during some traumatic events


The symptoms of acute stress disorder include:

Re-experiencing the traumatic event

A person would consistently re-experience the traumatic experience in at least of the following ways if they have ASD:

  • Feeling of distress when something or someone reminds them of the trauma.
  • Feeling like they are reliving the traumatic event
  • Experiencing recurring thoughts, images, nightmares, flashback episodes, of illusions linked to the traumatic experience

Dissociative symptoms

People experiencing ASD may have at least three of the following symptoms;

  • A decreased awareness of your environment.
  • Disinterest, numb feeling, or being emotionally unresponsive.
  • Your surroundings might seem strange or unreal.
  • You might experience dissociative amnesia where remembering one or more vital details of the traumatic event might be difficult.
  • You might also experience depersonalization where your emotions and thoughts don’t seem real to you.


A person with acute stress disorder may start to avoid things or people that might stimulate things that can make them remember the experience, such as;

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

Increased arousal or Anxiety

Anxiety and elevated arousal are symptoms associated with ASD. The symptoms of linked with Anxiety and increased arousal may include the following;

  • Issues sleeping
  • Irritable
  • Hard time concentrating
  • Constantly tensed or always on guard
  • Being unable to sit still
  • Easily startled and at inappropriate times


A person with ASD may experience distress, which can disrupt essential aspects of their life, such as your work or social settings. They may have difficulty completing the necessary tasks.

They may also find it hard discussing their traumatic experience with other people.

Diagnosing ASD

Your mental healthcare provider or primary doctor will diagnose ASD by asking some questions about your traumatic event. They would also inquire what symptoms you’re having while they rule out other factors like;

  • Possible side effects of medication
  • Drug abuse
  • Health complications
  • Other psychiatric disorders


Treatment options for ASD may include any of the following;

  • Exposure-based therapy
  • Psychiatric education to orient you about it disorder
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Psychiatric evaluation to help determine specific mental needs
  • Help with getting food, shelter, clothing, and reaching out to members of your family
  • Hospitalization if they fear self-harm or risk of suicide
  • Medication to help relieve symptoms of acute stress disorder, such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and re-uptake inhibitors
  • Cognitive behavior therapy, which can improve the speed of recovery and help prevent ASD from becoming Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)


Many people with acute stress disorder are later diagnosed with PTSD. Diagnosis of PTDD is possible if symptoms of ASD persist for up to a month or more, and when it causes a significant amount of stress and affects social and work functions.

The treatments listed above may help minimize the chances of developing PTSD. Approximately 50% of PTSD related cases get resolved within six months, while others may continue for years.


There’s no sure way to prevent ASD since there’s no definite way to ensure that a person doesn’t experience trauma. Nonetheless, some measures can be made to reduce the likelihood of developing acute stress disorder.

Immediate medical treatment within a few hours of experiencing any traumatic event may help to reduce the chances of developing ASD.

Individuals who work in jobs that expose them to traumatic events like military personnel can benefit from counseling and preparation training to reduce the risk of developing PTSD and ASD in the events of trauma.


The training and counseling may involve the unrealistic enactment of traumatic events that helps to strengthen coping mechanisms.

Have you ever had any traumatic events? Did it develop ASD? What methods did you use in controlling ASD? Share with us in the comments below.

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