Acute stress reaction


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What is acute stress reaction?

An acute stress reaction occurs when symptoms develop due to a particularly stressful event. The word ‘acute’ means the symptoms develop quickly but do not usually last long. The events are usually very severe and an acute stress reaction typically occurs after an unexpected life crisis. This might be, for example, a serious accident, sudden bereavement, or other traumatic events.

Road traffic accidents cause many casualties each year and you may be directly or indirectly affected by this kind of exceptionally stressful event. Acute stress reactions may also occur as a consequence of sexual assaults or domestic violence.

How common is acute stress reaction?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of acute stress reaction?

Symptoms usually develop quickly over minutes or hours – reacting to the stressful event. They usually settle fairly quickly but can sometimes last for several days or weeks. Symptoms of acute stress reactions may include the following:

  • Psychological symptoms such as anxiety, low mood, irritability, emotional ups and downs, poor sleep, poor concentration, wanting to be alone.
  • Recurrent dreams or flashbacks, which can be intrusive and unpleasant.
  • Avoidance of anything that will trigger memories. This may mean avoiding people, conversations, or other situations, as they cause distress and anxiety.
  • Reckless or aggressive behavior that may be self-destructive.
  • Feeling emotionally numb and detached from others.

Physical symptoms such as:

  • A ‘thumping heart’ (palpitations).
  • A feeling of sickness (nausea).
  • Chest pain.
  • Headaches
  • Tummy (abdominal) pains.
  • Breathing difficulties.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes acute stress reaction?

An acute stress reaction is usually caused by:

  • A serious accident
  • Sudden bereavement
  • Traumatic events
  • Road traffic accidents
  • Sexual assaults
  • Domestic violence

Risk factors

What increases my risk for acute stress reaction?

People who experience these following cases are at risk of getting acute stress reaction:

  • Terrorist incidents
  • Major disasters
  • War in countries

Military personnel are at more risk as a result of extreme experiences during conflicts.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is acute stress reaction diagnosed?

Consult your doctor for further information.

How is acute stress reaction treated?

No treatment may be needed, as symptoms usually go once the stressful event is over and you deal with it. Understanding the cause of symptoms and talking things over with a friend or family member, may help. However, some people have more severe or prolonged symptoms. One or more of the following may then help:

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

CBT is a talking therapy and is based on the idea that certain ways of thinking can trigger or fuel certain mental health problems. The therapist helps you to understand your current thought patterns. In particular, to identify any harmful, unhelpful and false ideas or thoughts. The aim is then to change your ways of thinking in order to avoid these ideas and help your thought patterns to be more realistic and helpful. When it is used for acute stress reactions it is known as trauma-focused CBT.


This may be an option if symptoms are persistent or severe. Counselling helps you to explore ways of dealing with stress and stress symptoms. This may be available locally but some charities also offer online resources and helplines that may be useful.


Taking a medicine may be an option:

  • A beta-blocker is one medicine that can help relieve some physical symptoms that are caused by the release of stress hormones. Beta-blockers are not addictive, are not tranquillisers and do not cause drowsiness or affect performance. You can take them as required.
  • Diazepam is a benzodiazepine tranquilliser. These are very rarely used and are reserved for exceptional cases for very short periods. It is addictive and will quickly lose its effect when taken for more than a few days.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage acute stress reaction?

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Review Date: October 26, 2017 | Last Modified: October 30, 2017

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