Acute stress disorder (ASD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) share similar symptoms, but there are notable differences.
Acute stress disorder (ASD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur in response to trauma.
ASD may be identified within a few days of the event, while PTSD may not be diagnosed until at least 1 month has passed.
ASD became a diagnosis in 1994 to better help those experiencing acute trauma. It was also hoped that ASD would help identify those who might develop PTSD early. But it turns out that PTSD doesn’t always follow ASD.
Treatment for both conditions can involve therapy, crisis support, and medication, depending on your individual needs and experiences.
Acute stress disorder (ASD) is a condition with early onset after experiencing trauma. This condition is diagnosed when someone has acute stress reactions (ASRs) starting no less than 3 days after trauma and no more than 4 weeks.
ASD, therefore, occurs in people who experience severe effects from trauma close to the time of the incident.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and ASD have distinct diagnoses. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), several factors make ASD different from PTSD:
- An ASD diagnosis can occur within the first month after trauma. For a diagnosis of PTSD, symptoms must have lasted at least 1 month.
- PTSD symptoms are organized into clusters. Someone must experience a specific number of symptoms within several clusters. An ASD diagnosis requires only a specific number of symptoms overall, without regard to clusters.
- PTSD diagnosis includes more severe changes in mood and cognition, while ASD does not.
If you have ASD, it is possible to later develop PTSD, according to the DVA. But not everyone with ASD will also have PTSD, and someone with PTSD might not have gone through ASD.
A 2018 review concluded that ASD alone could not predict PTSD.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), about half of people with ASD later experience PTSD.
ASD and PTSD have similar symptoms, and they both arise in response to trauma. The possible symptoms of both include:
- intrusion: recurring thoughts about the event or trauma, flashbacks, or nightmares
- avoidance: trying to avoid thinking or remembering the event or staying away from reminders of the trauma
- arousal: sleep problems, distractibility, or hyperalertness
- negative mood: an inability to feel happiness or love
If you’re unsure whether you’re experiencing PTSD, you can take our PTSD quiz to find out.
ASD and PTSD have similar treatment options, but some therapies for PTSD aren’t necessarily recommended for ASD.
The treatment you receive depends on your experiences and support needs.
Treatment for acute stress disorder (ASD)
In the early days and hours after trauma, a healthcare or other professional may offer general and practical support.
They may give you information about where to get emergency services and ask about friends or family who can help.
These individuals may also help you with practical details, such as filing a police report connected to the trauma and arranging for time off work.
After these initial steps, you may receive the following:
- trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TFCBT): this form of talk therapy can help you manage symptoms of ASD and PTSD and offer coping methods.
- medication: although there are no approved medicines for ASD, a doctor may recommend anti-anxiety medication or an antidepressant to help manage your symptoms.
You may also have crisis intervention support, where a professional can help you manage the aftermath of trauma. They may help you move away from potentially harmful coping mechanisms such as substance use.
Treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Medication and several types of psychotherapy can help treat PTSD, according to the APA.
Common treatments for PTSD include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is recommended by the APA for PTSD. Trauma-focused CBT
has been shownto help treat PTSD. It focuses on reframing and changing patterns of thoughts, emotions, behaviors, or beliefs about the trauma.
- Cognitive processing therapy (CPT). This type of CBT involves challenging and changing unhelpful thoughts related to the trauma.
- Prolonged exposure therapy. This technique involves exposing the person to memories of the trauma in a safe space. It’s usually done slowly and systematically. Breathing techniques are also incorporated to help manage anxiety.
- Stress inoculation therapy. This type of therapy helps you manage additional experiences of stress to reduce reactions to triggers.
- Group therapy. This therapy brings together people with similar experiences of PTSD to share in a safe environment.
- Medication. Antidepressants and medicines to reduce anxiety may be recommended, along with psychotherapy to help manage your symptoms.
There are other alternative treatments for PTSD that you may find helpful, such as animal-assisted therapy or acupuncture.
If you’re experiencing distressing symptoms following trauma, there are places you can find support. These include:
- The Veterans Crisis Line helps vets and their families. You don’t need to have Veteran’s Affairs (VA) benefits to use this resource. You can call 800-273-8255 and press 1 or text 838255 for help and support.
- The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline connects callers to trained sexual assault service providers in their local area. You can call 1-800.656.HOPE (4673) for help and support.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline is available 24/7 for people facing mental health or substance use challenges. You can call 800-662-HELP (4357) for support.
If you’ve been through a trauma but are unsure where to start, you can check out Psych Central’s hub for finding a path through trauma.
Acute stress disorder (ASD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are distinct conditions with similar symptoms.
A healthcare professional can help determine whether what you’re experiencing is ASD or PTSD.
Some people with ASD also develop PTSD, but this is not always the case. You can also experience PTSD even if you didn’t have ASD.
Treatment for ASD and PTSD usually involves psychotherapy. Medications, such as antidepressants, may also help manage symptoms. If you have ASD, you may receive immediate crisis support and help manage the practical details of reporting the trauma.
Both ASD and PTSD are manageable conditions with effective treatments. Reaching out to a healthcare or mental health professional can help you get started with the support you need.