Acute stress disorder (ASD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by a cluster of dissociative and anxiety symptoms occurring within one month of a traumatic event. (Dissociation is a psychological reaction to trauma in which the mind tries to cope by "sealing off" some features of the trauma from conscious awareness).
Acute stress disorder is a new diagnostic category that was introduced in 1994 to differentiate time-limited reactions to trauma from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Causes and symptoms
Acute stress disorder is caused by exposure to trauma, which is defined as a stressor that causes intense fear and, usually, involves threats to life or serious injury to oneself or others. Examples are rape, mugging, combat, natural disasters, etc.
The symptoms of stress disorder include a combining of one or more dissociative and anxiety symptoms with the avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event. Dissociative symptoms include emotional detachment, temporary loss of memory, depersonalization, and derealization.
Anxiety symptoms connected with acute stress disorder include irritability, physical restlessness, sleep problems, inability to concentrate, and being easily startled.
Diagnosis of acute stress disorder is based on a combination of the patient's history and a physical examination to rule out diseases that can cause anxiety. The essential feature is a traumatic event within one month of the onset of symptoms. Other diagnostic criteria include:
The symptoms significantly interfere with normal social or vocational functioning
The symptoms last between two days and four weeks.