PTSD After an Accident: What to Expect and How to Cope

When it comes to dealing with injury after an accident, there are two types of injuries to deal with.  Seen and unseen.  It is easy for doctors to look at a patient, see obvious injury and treat those injuries accordingly.  Treating the injuries that are not seen are not always straight forward and easy to diagnose and treat.  This article will discuss dealing with and treating PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) after an accident.  Most people think that PTSD deals more with shell shocked veterans returning from war or a person who has been the victim of a crime, but people do not always think PTSD will be present after an accident.  This article will also cover how to recognize signs of PTSD that can show up, especially if the patient has a head injury.


Post traumatic stress disorder is a condition that can manifest itself after any traumatic event with or without energy.  Victims of car accidents that have head injuries are more likely to develop PTSD than those without head injuries, however, PTSD can manifest even if there is not a head injury.  It can cause nightmares, panic attacks, withdrawal from life, insomnia, depression and severe anxiety when put in the situation where the trauma occurred.  It can even cause anxiety when the person relives the event in their head.  PTSD is diagnosed through a series of tests administered by a psychiatrist, as well as a neurologist.  The neurologist will order scans and MRIs to determine the extent of the head injury, and the psychiatrist will conduct several interviews with the patient to determine if the patient is experiencing PTSD.


Most people that are in an accident that have a head injury will not develop PTSD.  There are many factors to be considered.  At the scene of the accident, if an emergency worker suspects a head injury, they will perform a Glasgow Coma Scale assessment.  The GCS measures a person’s ability to open their eyes, response to verbal commands, and motor response.  The highest score is 15 with the lowest being 0.  This is done because it is a good baseline to determine whether or not a person is suffering from a head injury.  The assessment is then put into the patient’s chart for a neurologist to determine whether or not further testing needs to be done. Most of the time, the neurologist will order CT scans and MRIs to see if there is damage to the brain.  The course of treatment will depend on the scans and progress the patient makes from the scene of the accident to the hospital.  Now, a neurologist is not able to see if a patient is going to suffer from PTSD.  PTSD usually manifests itself with nightmares and stress from being put in the situation that mimics the trauma that caused the injury.


There is not a sure-fire way to “know” for sure that PTSD is the cause of the anxiety that presents following the accident, extensive interviews with a psychiatrist will be done to discuss symptoms.  Having nightmares, episodes of severe anxiety, depression, withdrawing from life, and even the inability to function normally in everyday situations can be symptoms of PTSD.  Depending on the severity of symptoms, patients may have to be kept in a facility to undergo intensive psychotherapy to help cope with the stress of day to day living.  A team of counselors led by a psychiatrist and neurologist will monitor the progress to ensure that the “acute” problems are addressed and identified.  Based on the scans, interviews, therapy, the team will decide if PTSD is the cause of the anxiety and stress following the accident.  It can take months to evaluate and diagnose PTSD, so having a good support system is a key element in a successful evaluation and diagnosis.


While PTSD cannot be cured, PTSD can be managed.  It is going to require that patients be monitored, medication may be prescribed to help cope with the symptoms of PTSD.  Do not fear, doctors are coming up with several treatments and protocols that can help patients who suffer from PTSD live a normal life that can be a successful life.  With PTSD, there will be lifelong treatment and counseling to help with the day-to-day anxieties and concerns, but PTSD is a brain disorder, and each person suffering from PTSD will have to find a course of treatment that works for them.

In conclusion, accidents occur every day.  People sustain head injuries and while most recover, PTSD is a very real fear for those who suffer from head injuries and accidents.  The ability to recognize that things are not going back to normal, finding a course of treatment that helps the patient cope is an absolute priority in the care of those who suffer from PTSD.  The process can be long and arduous, but keeping your attorney informed of the progress, treatment and evaluations that are needed is crucial in ensuring the best care possible is provided.

If you have questions about PTSD or any other type of brain injury, we welcome you to call us for free.