Know Stress

Acute Stress Disorder- An Introductory Guide

In 1994, there was a new diagnostic category introduced to distinguish between time-limited reactions to trauma from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This category was called acute stress disorder. In medical parlance, it is described as an anxiety disorder typified by a group of anxiety and dissociative symptoms that occurred within a month of a traumatic incident.

Causes of Occurrence

The cause of acute stress disorder is a traumatic experience. A traumatic experience is one that causes extreme fear. Usually, this type of experience is a part of any life threatening incident or injury to self or others. Some examples of such traumatic experiences can be mortal combat, mugging, rape, natural disasters, and others.


The indicators of acute stress disorder comprise of a combining of one or more dissociative and anxiety symptoms with the evading of reminders of the traumatic event. Dissociative symptoms include the following-

  • Temporary loss of memory
  • Emotional detachment
  • Derealization
  • Depersonalization

Anxiety symptoms linked with acute stress disorder consist of the following-

  • Irritability
  • Physical restlessness
  • Sleep problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Tendency of being startled easily.


Diagnosis of acute stress disorder can be done with the help of the patient's history. Further, a physical examination can be conducted in order to rule out the existence of those diseases that can cause anxiety. As a matter of fact, what examiners are looking for is a traumatic event that had taken place inside a month of the start of symptoms.


Acute stress disorder can be treated with the help of psycho-therapy or with the help of medication. However, medications should be taken within limits. If the disorders are appearing at frequent intervals, it is best to go for a safer and reliable source like psycho-therapy. Called talking cure, it can help the patient get rid of those memories which induce stress.

How fast would the patient recover from it would depend upon the severity and duration of the trauma. Also, the patient's closeness to the trauma causing incident would also determine the patient's rate of recovery.

Acute Stress Disorder and Its Prevention

One can not know of the occurrence of trauma inducing incidents. Hence, they can not be prevented from occurring at all. However, what can be done in order to prevent acute stress disorder is to intervene immediately after the occurrence of a traumatic incident. This would definitely reduce the chances of inducement of acute stress syndrome.

If the reasons of acute stress disorder are biological (such as biochemical changes in the digestive system, in muscles, and in the central nervous system), then take care of the patient. Emphasize this to the patient that these are necessary and periodical workings of the body and would slowly recede.