Exceptionally stressful life events can cause severe psychological symptoms, including anxiety, feelings of derealization and depersonalization, and hyperarousal. In one of the first studies to comprehensively document acute reactions to extreme stress, Lindemann observed that the symptoms reported by survivors of the Coconut Grove Fire included avoidance, re-experiencing scenes from the fire, reports of derealization, and the experience of anxiety when exposed to reminders of the event. Similarly, acute responses reported by soldiers who fought in the First and Second World Wars included re-experiencing symptoms and dissociative responses such as numbing, amnesia, and depersonalization. The International Classification of Diseases has recognized acute stress reactions since 1948 (ICD-6). In the most recent edition (ICD-10), early reactions to exceptionally stressful life events are diagnosed as acute stress reaction, one of the diagnoses in the section headed ‘reactions to severe stress, and adjustment disorders’. The diagnoses of acute stress reactions in ICD-10 and of acute stress disorder in DSM-IV have similarities in that they are caused by extreme stress and have some overlap in symptom patterns. They can be considered as two separate points on a continuum from transient to more enduring symptoms. However, there are also differences in the underlying concepts, as we will discuss in this chapter.
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