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What Causes Ptsd In The Brain

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Childhood Trauma And The Developing Brain

How Does PTSD Affect Brain Function?

Many people experience trauma early on in life while their brain is still developing. Children with post-traumatic stress will have variations in the volume and surface area of the insula. The insula is a region of the brain buried deep in the cerebral cortex that is crucial for self-awareness and reactions to sensory information.

Children may be more impacted by trauma than adults but providing them treatment early on can minimize the effects of PTSD. Young children need to learn how to cope with stress and process the traumatic event in a way that can prevent long-term damage to their mental health. Fortunately, with treatment children can also bounce back from trauma and improve their brain functioning.

Although trauma can be devastating to a persons mental health and has a serious impact on crucial aspects of their functioning, recovery is possible. Treatment methods that focus on emotional regulation and building back volume in the brain can be most effective for patients dealing with PTSD or any type of past trauma.

Emotion Trauma And The Prefrontal Cortex

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that regulates emotions. This emotion-regulating center is often affected after trauma and becomes vulnerable to other parts of the brain.

Normally, the amygdala will sense a negative emotion, such as fear, and the prefrontal cortex will rationally react to this emotion. After trauma though, this rationality might be overridden and your prefrontal cortex will have a hard time regulating fear and other emotions.

So, these three parts of the brain- the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex- are the most-affected areas of the brain from trauma.

They can make a trauma survivor constantly fearful, especially when triggered by events and situations that remind them of their past trauma.

Overcoming emotional trauma is a long process, but it is possible. If you are suffering from after-effects of emotional trauma or PTSD, know that recovering from your trauma is possible.

Gender Differences And Risk For Ptsd

Women more frequently suffer from PTSD than men for reasons that are not entirely clear. Women and men are, in general, subjected to different types of trauma, though the differences in PTSD frequency arc unlikely to be explained solely on the basis of exposure type and/or severity alone. In addition to those findings by Ressler described above, a number of gender-related differences in the neurobiological response to trauma have been documented. Rodent studies suggest that females generally exhibit greater magnitude and duration of HPA axis responses to stress than males, though findings in humans are not entirely consistent. Sex differences in neuroendocrine stress responses have been attributed to direct effects of circulating estrogen on CRH neurons. Sex steroids also interact with other neurotransmitter systems involved in the stress response, such as the serotonin system. Progesterone has been implicated in modulating these systems as well. However, gender differences in HPA responses to stress have also been observed independent of acute gonadal steroid effects.

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Genetic Risk Factors For Ptsd

Studies on the genetics of PTSD have been hampered by a variety of factors, such as genetic heterogeneity and incomplete phenotypic penetrance . Despite these confounds, there is accumulating evidence that risk for PTSD is heavily influenced by genetic factors. Evidence from family and twin studies has long suggested a heritable contribution to the development of PTSD. In addition, there is evidence for heritable contributions to some of the neurobiological endophenotypes of PTSD as discussed above, such as decreased hippocampal volume or exaggerated amygdala reactivity. Although it is beyond the scope of this review to comprehensively discuss the genetics of PTSD, it should be noted that there is an emerging literature on genetic variations in those neurobiological systems that drive responses to trauma and, consequently, risk versus resilience to develop PTSD.

Does The Hippocampus Play A Role In Determining Ptsd Risk


Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event develops PTSD. Therefore, researchers have also proposed that the hippocampus may play a role in determining who is at risk for developing PTSD.

Specifically, it is possible that having a smaller hippocampus may be a sign that a person is vulnerable to developing a severe case of PTSD following;a traumatic event. Some people may be born with a smaller hippocampus, which could interfere with their ability to recover from a traumatic experience, putting them at risk for developing PTSD.

In twin studies that focused on;identical twins, with one twin exposed to a traumatic event and the other unexposed, researchers are able to look at pre-existing vulnerabilities that may be present in both twins, as well as differences that may be due to trauma. Since twin participants share the same genes, studying identical twins can provide insight into the influence of genetics on developing certain conditions.

For example, in this case, if the person who developed PTSD has a smaller hippocampus and has a non-trauma exposed twin who has a smaller hippocampus, it would suggest that a smaller hippocampus may be a sign of genetic vulnerability for developing PTSD following a traumatic experience.

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What Are The Common Symptoms Following A Tbi

Symptoms that result from TBI are known as post-concussion syndrome . Few people will have all of the symptoms, but even one or two of the symptoms can be unpleasant. PCS makes it hard to work, get along at home, or relax. In the days, weeks, and months following a TBI the most common symptoms are:


  • Feeling bothered by noise and light


  • Poor judgment and acting without thinking
  • Being slowed down
  • Trouble putting thoughts into words


  • Anger outbursts and quick to anger
  • Anxiety
  • Personality changes

These symptoms are part of the normal process of getting better. They are not signs of lasting brain damage. These symptoms are to be expected and are not a cause for concern or worry. More serious symptoms include severe forms of those listed above, decreased response to standard treatments, and seizures.

We Ask An Expert About The Common Causes Of Ptsd

When Elevates own Aspen Jewel and Dr. Merchant went live on FB a while back, they dove right into the subject of post traumatic stress disorder causes. But first, a bit about Tyler Merchant, DO: Hes one of our wonderful and compassionate cannabis doctors at Elevate Holistics. In addition, hes the medical director of Holistic Family Medicine and Obstetrics LLC, with located in Sedalia, MO.;

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The Link Between Stress Posttraumatic Stress Disorder And Cortisol

Cortisol is the primary stress hormone, a steroid hormone of the adrenal cortex, which participates in the regulation of metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It has a role in stress and a variety of inflammatory processes in the body . Dysregulation of the secretion of this hormone triggers severe dysregulation mechanisms in the body during stress with farreaching consequences. Hypothalamicpituitaryadrenal axis activates during the stress. If the acute stress is not removed and is prolonged to chronic stress, such deregulated secretion of cortisol can lead to outbreaks of a disease caused by suppressive effects of cortisol on the immune system. Frequent infections and neoplasms can also occur . The stimulative effect of cortisol on proinflammatory cytokines leads to autoimmune diseases and malignancies .

Headaches, as primary manifestations of hyperarousal, are among the major occurrences in patients with posttraumatic stress disorder. They appear to be associated with decreased volumes of subcortical cerebral structures as well as with cooccurrence of anxiety and depression in male therapy naïve patients with PTSD .

A New Look Inside The Ptsd Brain

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder 3 – what happens in the brain to cause it?

Our blogs are written by a dedicated team of authors who are equally passionate about sharing their insights, perspectives and personal experiences.With a focus…Read More

Those with post-traumatic stress disorder experience unmitigated anxiety related to a past trauma. With symptoms including intrusive thoughts , hypervigilance , sleeplessness and emotional outbursts, survivors often times dont understand how theyve suddenly become so out of control in their own minds and bodies. ;

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A Unifying Theory Of Ptsd

Liberzon and his colleague, James Abelson, M.D., Ph.D., describe models of PTSD that have emerged in recent years and lay out the evidence for each. The problem, they say, is that none sufficiently explain the various symptoms, nor all of the complex neurobiological changes seen in patients with PTSD and in animal models of this disorder.

The first model, abnormal fear learning, is rooted in the amygdala the brains fight-or-flight center which focuses on responses to threats or safe environments. This model emerged from work on fear conditioning, fear extinction and fear generalization.

The second, exaggerated threat detection, is rooted in the brain regions that figure out what signals from the environment are salient, or important to take note of and react to. This model focuses on vigilance and disproportionate responses to perceived threats.

The third, involving executive function and regulation of emotions, is mainly rooted in the prefrontal cortex the brains center for keeping emotions in check and planning or switching between tasks.

The main thing, says Liberzon, is that context is not only information about your surroundings its pulling out the correct emotion and memories for the context you are in.

What Causes Ptsd Here’s What Happens To The Brain After Trauma

There’s no threshold for whether something is traumatic enough to cause the disorder, but common triggers include natural disasters and violent assaults.

A violent act, natural disasters, military combat: These are all life events that can prompt post-traumatic stress disorder , which affects 8 million Americans, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The list of triggers for this anxiety disorder is quite long and includes natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and tsunamis, a serious accident and witnessing a death, especially a violent one.

In addition, the PTSD causes we are all familiar with include military combat, terrorist attacks and violent personal assaults such as sexual assault, mugging, or robbery, says Vonnie Nealon, clinical director of Warriors Heart, an accredited treatment program for military, veterans and first responders, in Bandera, Texas.

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Can The Brain Heal Itself After Trauma

When evaluating the damage that emotional trauma and PTSD have caused, scientists have found that the brain is unable to heal itself. While the brain is unable to fully recover itself, Highland Springs is able to offer treatments to help prevent further damage and encourage healing for emotional trauma. With the experts that Highland Springs is able to offer, patients will be able to identify the cause of their trauma/triggers and eventually be able to overcome it.

Neural Circuits In Women With Abuse And Ptsd

PTSD medical disorder vector illustration infographic ...

PTSD subjects had increased symptoms of anxiety, fear, dissociation, distress, substance use disorders , and PTSD at all time points during both study days relative to non-PTSD. Acquisition of fear was associated with increased skin conductance responses to CS exposure during the active versus the control conditions in all subjects. There was increased SC for PTSD during the first CS-UCS presentation. Extinction of fear was associated with increased skin conductance responses to CS exposure during the active versus the control conditions in all subjects. When PTSD and non-PTSD subjects were examined separately, SC levels were significantly elevated in non-PTSD subjects undergoing extinction following the active compared with the control condition during session one.

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Proper Treatment For Post Traumatic Stress

Treatment for traumatic stress is possible. While reaching sufferers as soon after the trauma occurs is preferable, thats not always possible for individuals who are struggling with trauma from early childhood incidents or post traumatic stress from combat or other experiences.

Luckily, physicians and psychotherapists continue to develop new techniques for managing and processing traumatic stress. These typically include a combination of psychotherapy and medical intervention.

Often, a typical trauma treatment plan will include elements of the following therapeutic techniques:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy : Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy uses a conversation-based approach with a therapist to explore patterns of challenging behavior or traumatic memories. Unpacking these behaviors with a therapist can help individuals find new, healthier ways of coping with stress.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy : Dialectical Behavior Therapy helps individuals who are struggling with impulsive emotional responses. Guided by a therapist, individuals can better understand their emotional triggers and common responses, then use a series of strategies to manage them in healthy ways.

Trauma treatment may also include other components, such as:

Risk And Resilience For Developing Ptsd

Individuals exposed to an event that either threatens serious injury/death, or is perceived as such, respond in different ways. Most will experience minimal to brief to short-term abnormalities while a smaller number will suffer from significant psychopathology over longer-term and chronic time frames. In short, not all individuals who face potentially catastrophic trauma go on to develop PTSD. Why some individuals will develop PTSD following trauma, whereas others do not, is of paramount importance. Because the majority of trauma survivors do not go on to develop PTSD, it is crucial going forward to understand vulnerability and resiliency factors. In this section, the role of genetic factors, gender differences, and early developmental stress experiences in moderating risk for developing PTSD in response to psychological trauma are discussed as is the increased risk for developing PTSD in the context of co-occurring physical traumas .

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Psychological And Physical Symptoms Of Ptsd

Finally, Dr. Merchant brings up some of the effects that PTSD triggers in people.;

Dr. Merchant: Really, there are several pieces of PTSD. One, there’s something that you can identify as bringing it on. Unlike things like depression, where maybe somebody will say, well, I don’t know. I’ve just always felt bad. And I’m sure it gets worse if certain things get worse in life.

But with PTSD there’s a discrete event. And then the other things are, people have both psychological and oftentimes very physical manifestations of it. So the psychological pieces, I’m cranky, I’m irritable. I’m just angry. And I don’t know why I’m depressed. And so you can have elements of depression and anxiety in it. And then theres the kind of the transition from physical to mental, and that is insomnia. Clearly, that’s a very physical thing, but its also very common to hear people just not be able to shut the brain off. Just can’t get to sleep.

And then the purely physical is, if I’m exposed to any kind of noise, I start to tremble or feel chest pain or get short of breath. I literally feel like I’m choking or dying. These are things that come up often. And people having flashbacks, nightmares, waking up in cold sweats. And so you can tell just by the vast number of symptoms that people can have. How significant of an impact PTSD can have on people’s lives.

Other Brain Fog Causes

The neuroscience of PTSD/ The brain and PTSD

Diet can contribute to brain fog. You may experience brain fog if you have a deficiency in vitamin B12. Foods which can also contribute to brain fog symptoms include MSG , aspartame peanuts and dairy. Eating an unhealthy diet full of unprocessed sugars and trans fats can contribute to brain fog. Unhealthy vegetable oils can cause brain inflammation resulting in brain fog.

Hormonal changes can lead to brain fog. Specifically low oestrogen levels when going through the menopause can impeded concentration and thinking. The hormones of progesterone and oestrogen can increase during pregnancy which can cause difficulties relating to memory and thinking.

Some medications can have side effects including brain fog. If you think you are experiencing brain fog as a result of medication consult your local pharmacist or local doctor to find an alternative medication.

Medical conditions can also contribute to brain fog symptoms. These might include: Anaemia, autoimmune diseases, hypothyroidism, migraines, diabetes and depression.

Lack of sleep or lack of quality sleep

Prolonged periods of stress, anxiety and depression as well as having an addiction history.

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How Does Trauma Affect The Brain

When we experience a traumatic event, our brain chemistry and functioning changes in response to the emotional and physical consequences of that event.

Traumatic events include a wide range of experiences, including:

  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Death of a loved one
  • Financial, professional, or personal loss

There is no standard definition of a traumatic experience for everyone, and each of these experiences takes a unique toll on us as individuals. While all of us experience traumatic stress in different ways, our brains process stress in mostly predictable patterns. In general, there are three major areas of our brain that are shaped by stressful experiences. These are:

  • The hippocampus, which helps control memory, learning, and interpretation of information. This area of the brain may become less active under stress and, in fact, may actually shrink. This shrinkage reduces the amount of information and memories we can effectively process at one time. In addition, a smaller and less active hippocampus means we are less likely to be able to process any new information when we are experiencing traumatic stress.
  • The amygdala, which helps us process our emotions. During periods of intense stress, the amygdalas role in the brain is to serve as an alarm system, alerting the rest of the brain to potential risk. While this is useful in life-or-death situations, the amygdala can be triggered by traumatic stress, too, causing the brain to enter fight-or-flight mode over and over again.

Consequences Of Brain Dysfunctions In Ptsd


Because the amygdala is overactive, more norepinephrine is released in response to threat and its release is not well-regulated by the PFC.

Effects of excess norepinephrine include:

  • Hyperarousal.
  • Hypervigilance
  • Increased wakefulness and sleep disruption
  • As a result of hyperarousal, people with PTSD can get emotionally triggered by anything that resembles the original trauma . Symptoms of hypervigilance means they are frequently keyed up and on edge, while increased wakefulness means they may have difficulty sleeping or wake up in the middle of the night.

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