PTSD: Symptmology, Brain changes etc.

According to the NIMH,

PTSD is a condition which can be expeirenced by anyone who has undergone an experience where real harm is a threat or where serious physical harm has occured, been witnessed, or been caused by the individual.

Symptoms include persistent frightening thoughts and memories, emotional numbness, sleep problems, and the ability to be easily startled.

Researchers are having some success treating victims with virtual reality therapy combined with antibiotics and anxiety relieving medication.

A recent article published by the Journal of the American Medical Association sugested a correlary in the incidece of PTSD in cases where an individual had undergone severe childhood trauma, such as sexual or physical abuse. Certain gene reactions are being investigated for the role they might play in the onset of future PTSD.

PTSD 101, available through the Iraq War Veteran’s website, is a web-based curriculum of diverse topics focusing on issues related to combat stress/PTSD. It is available on-demand for professionals who provide services to individuals who have experienced trauma. Courses are presented by a faculty of recognized experts in the field of traumatic stress.

PTSD numbers likely higher as troops reject label, help

WASHINGTON – The number of troops diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder jumped by roughly 50 percent in 2007, the most violent year so far in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pentagon records show.

In the first time the Defense Department has disclosed a number for PTSD cases from the two wars, officials said nearly 40,000 troops have been diagnosed with the illness since 2003, though they believe many more are likely keeping their illness a secret.


“A hippocampal Cdk5 pathway regulates extinction of contextual fear.”

Farahnaz Sananbenesi, Andre Fischer, Xinyu Wang, Christina Schrick, Rachael Neve, Jelena Radulovic and Li-Huei Tsai.
Nature Neuroscience Published online: 15 July 2007

Click here for Abstract.

Click here for National Center for PTSD (US).

Brain Changes

An individual suffering with PTSD actually experiences physiological changes. The autonomic and central nervous systems are both affected. Also, the hippocampus decreases in mass and the amygdala is over reactive. Memory is a key component to PTSD. The traumatic event is relived constantly via memory. Both the hippocampus and amygdala are key in human memory. It is believed that the amygdala is the “fear center” of the brain. It should not be surprising that PTSD sufferers have over reactive amygdala. The amygdala helps the brain establish a connection between fear producing situations from the past and because of this conditioning pairs them with a stimulus in the present that may be neutral. This incorrect conditioning helps the individual maintain a constant state of hyper arousal because the brain is telling the person that a “safe” situation is threatening even though the “safe” situation may have nothing to do with the prior trauma.

hippocampus & amygdala
hippocampus & amygdala

The hippocampus plays an important role in learning and memory. Research suggests that the hippocampus attempts to create expectations in situations that may offer rewards and punishments based on memory and past learning. Due to hippocampal damage in those with PTSD it may be difficult for the brain to learn new expectations for situations following the traumatic event.

Studies show that individuals with PTSD have lower levels of cortisol than those who do not have PTSD and higher than average levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine. The above three mentioned hormones are responsible for creating the “flight or fight” response to stress. In turn, this means that the person with PTSD lives in constant “flight or fight” mode. Some of the side effects of long term stress are: hypertension, ulcers, and poorer overall health. Cortisol helps give the body energy while stressed and glucocorticoids help with post stress survival these are hormones that those with PTSD have lower than normally levels. Serotonin is believed to play a role in PTSD however research is inconclusive. It is thought that the lack of inhibitory signals to neurons may not “shut off” the stress responses. Additionally people with PTSD have higher levels of natural opiates after the trauma. These higher levels of opiates may condition the individual to re-experience the trauma in order to attain the opiate response. The neurotransmitter changes exhibited by those with PTSD are those opposite to the changes seen in people with major depression.

cortison system
cortison system

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