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What Part Of The Brain Is Affected By Ptsd

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Ptsd Changes How The Brain Works

How The Brain Is Affected by Trauma

Beyond those three areas, PTSD has broader effects on overall functioning. “In some studies, individuals with the condition have been found to have depletions in the brain’s gray matter, along with changes to connections between sections of the brain,” says Clouston. “These things are critical to your ability to learn, remember, and make new connections between ideas.” You need gray matter as an essential part of cognitive health.

The other area that shows physical signs of PTSD is our neurochemistry, or the balance of chemicals, including hormones, that interact with neural tissue.Cortisol levels in people with the disorder are often lower than in others, Dr. Jain explains, while other chemicals, such as noradrenaline and adrenaline, are spiking. “These are released by the body when goes into fight or flight mode. We know that in people with PTSD, those chemicals are just floating around in their bodies, at much higher rates than they should be and for a lot longer,” says Dr. Jain.

The neurotransmitter serotonin, which is so often the focus of mood disorder treatment, is also impacted by the condition. A study published in Molecular Psychiatry in 2016 found that people with PTSD often appear to have serotonin imbalances. This, says Dr. Jain, probably accounts for some of the mood symptoms that accompany post-traumatic stress, like depression, irritability and anger.

The Brain Changes Caused By Trauma

While alterations in behavior are the hallmarks of PTSD, the causes for these changes involve changes to significant brain structures. One study using functional magnetic resonance imaging showed that brain structure and function might underlie the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The brain areas that seem to have been consistently implicated in PTSD have included the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex . Also involved in the changes seen in those living with PTSD is the amygdala .

Several studies have shown that PTSD is associated with a reduction in the hippocampus volume during fMRI and MRI examinations. This volume change can mean that the person experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder will experience memory disturbances and difficulty learning.

The amygdala volume in people with PTSD decreased, leaving the person living with PTSD easily triggered by events it perceives as dangerous, whether this perception is correct or not. As a result, the person lives in a state of constant alertness and fear and can be easily triggered into a flashback of the event that caused their post-traumatic stress disorder .

Consequences Of Ptsd Brain Dysfunction On Quality Of Life

Understanding how the after-effects of trauma impact the brain so significantly helps explain why PTSD causes such serious disruption in daily functioning. PTSD often affects the ability to have healthy, satisfying relationships or tolerate uncertainty and rejections without excess distress. It causes sleep disturbances, negative mood, anxiety, and attention/concentration difficulties that often interfere with academic or career success.

Other Disruptive Symptoms Of PTSD Include:

  • Extreme startle response

  • Self-Blame

  • Detachment From Others

PTSD also often occurs with other related mental and physical health conditions, such as depression, substance use, and memory problems.

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The Science Behind Ptsd Symptoms: How Trauma Changes The Brain

By Michele Rosenthal

After any type of trauma , the brain and body change. Every cell records memories and every embedded, trauma-related neuropathway has the opportunity to repeatedly reactivate.

Sometimes the alterations these imprints create are transitory, the small glitch of disruptive dreams and moods that subside in a few weeks. In other situations the changes evolve into readily apparent symptoms that impair function and present in ways that interfere with jobs, friendships and relationships.

One of the most difficult aspects for survivors in the aftermath of trauma is understanding the changes that occur, plus integrating what they mean, how they affect a life and what can be done to ameliorate them. Launching the recovery process begins with normalizing post-trauma symptoms by investigating how trauma affects that brain and what symptoms these effects create.

How Common Is Post

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Experiencing trauma is not rare as approximately 6 of every 10 men , and 5 of every 10 women will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Men are more likely to experience trauma in the form of accidents, physical assault, combat, or witness death or injury. Women are more likely to experience sexual assault and child sexual abuse.

Some people have inherited a gene from a parent who had PTSD, making them more susceptible to forming it themselves.

However, post-traumatic stress disorder can strike anyone at any time regardless of age or other demographics. No one is immune from PTSD, and as the world changes, it becomes more likely for one to experience a traumatic event that causes it.

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How Might Ptsd Affect The Hippocampus

Some studies suggest that constant stress may damage the hippocampus. When we experience stress, the body releases a hormone called cortisol, which is helpful in mobilizing the body to respond to a stressful event. Some animal studies, though, show that high levels of cortisol may play a role in damaging or destroying cells in the hippocampus.

While cortisol is released in higher amounts when a person is under a great deal of stress, either chronically or acutely, this process is actually more complicated than just elevated cortisol. The increase in cortisol also signals the immune system, which releases inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, which in turn can activate cells called microglia. These in turn switch from production of serotonin to a higher production of glutamate, a very important excitatory neurotransmitter that, if present in excessive amounts, can lead to brain cell damage or death. Such a constant barrage of higher glutamate levels may be what damages the hippocampus.

Antidepressants such as SSRI’s and SNRI’s help to block the transport of these inflammatory cytokines across the blood-brain barrier.

Researchers have also looked at the size of the hippocampus in people with and without PTSD. They have found that people who have severe, chronic cases of PTSD have smaller hippocampi . This indicates that experiencing ongoing stress as a result of severe and chronic PTSD may ultimately damage the hippocampus, making it smaller.

Pstd Affects The Brain Physically

It’s sometimes difficult for researchers to know whether the anxiety disorder has caused physical changes in neural cells, or whether those physical characteristics were already there. Dr. Shaili Jain M.D., a PTSD expert and author of The Unspeakable Mind, explains that there are three main areas of neural tissue implicated in PTSD: the hippocampus, the frontal lobe, and the amygdala. The hippocampus, she explains, “is a part of the brain that’s located in the temporal lobe where we process memories. It’s smaller in people who have post-traumatic stress, but we don’t know why.” It’s a case of chicken and egg, she notes: “We don’t know if they were born with a smaller hippocampus and that somehow made them more vulnerable to trauma, or if it shrunk after they were exposed to trauma.”

The frontal lobe and the amygdala can also bear the physical marks of the disorder. The amygdala is the area where we process emotions like fear and anger, while the frontal lobe is where we execute judgement and plan our actions, Dr. Jain tells Bustle. “The amygdala is over-active in people who have PTSD, and the frontal lobe is under-active,” she says. The amygdala’s over-sensitivity is why “people with PTSD see danger when danger isn’t there,” she explains, while the damage to the frontal lobe explains symptoms like recklessness, impulsivity and anger. “In PTSD,” she says, “the frontal lobe isn’t thinking things through. It’s not processing information correctly.”

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Effects Of Traumatic Stress

Traumatic stressors such as early trauma can lead to posttraumatic stress disorder , which affects about 8% of Americans at some time In their lives, as well as depression,, substance abuse,, dissociation, personality disorders,, and health problems. For many trauma victims, PTSD can be a lifelong problem. The President’s New Freedom Commission Report highlights the Importance of providing services for mental disorders related to early trauma.- However, the development of effective treatments is limited by gaps in knowledge about the underlying neurobiological mechanisms that mediate symptoms of traumarelated disorders like PTSD. This paper reviews preclinical and clinical studies on the effects of traumatic stress on the brain.

Caudate Nucleus Putamen And Globus Pallidus

PTSD and the Brain

Subcortical structures such as caudate nucleus and putamen have been described as structures involved not only in motor function, but in cognitive processes and that their volume decrease was associated with major depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic stress induces neuroendocrine deficiency and weakened defensive mechanisms which lead to posttraumatic stress disorder. Cortisol, as the primary stress hormone, together with dehydroepiandrosterone, tries to return the body to its original state of homeostasis, but its disturbed concentration levels can modify brain structures volumes. Negative effects of cortisol result in volume decrease of subcortical structures .

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My Boss Wants Me To Go Back Into The Tank To Weld But Im Still Trying To Get Out


Joes brain has been hijacked by trauma. He feels out of control because he cant make his mind do what he wants it to do, which is to forget the trauma.

But despite what reason says, Joes body still holds on to the distress of the accident and is desperately trying to get out of the tank. The hijacking results in posttraumatic stress disorder . Some common symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, startle response, and preoccupation with the traumatic event.

How exactly are Joes brain and body being hijacked by the trauma? Simply put, when a person experiences something traumatic, adrenalin and other neurochemicals rush to the brain and print a picture there. The traumatic memory loops in the emotional side of the brain, disconnecting from the part of the brain that conducts reasoning and cognitive processing. The reasonable part of the brain is unable to help the emotionally loaded part of the brain get away from the trauma.

It is estimated that of 100 people who have experienced trauma, 25%, or 1 in 4, will experience PTSD, which includes 1 of every 4 burn survivors. With statistics this high, we can conclude that this is a normal response to an extreme situation and not a pathology.


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.

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What Brain Areas Are Implicated In Ptsd

PTSD symptoms develop due to dysfunction in two key regions:

The Amygdala

This is a small almond-shaped structure located deep in the middle of the temporal lobe. The amygdala is designed to:

  • Detect threats in the environment and activate the fight or flight response
  • Activate the sympathetic nervous system to help you deal with the threat
  • Help you store new emotional or threat-related memories

The Prefrontal Cortex

The Prefrontal Cortex is located in the frontal lobe just behind your forehead. The PFC is designed to:

  • Regulate attention and awareness
  • Determine the meaning and emotional significance of events
  • Regulate emotions
  • Inhibit or correct dysfunctional reactions

When your brain detects a threat, the amygdala initiates a quick, automatic defensive response involving the release of adrenaline, norepinephrine, and glucose to rev up your brain and body. Should the threat continue, the amygdala communicates with the hypothalamus and pituitary gland to release cortisol. Meanwhile, the medial part of the prefrontal cortex consciously assesses the threat and either accentuates or calms down the fight or flight response.

Studies of response to threat in people with PTSD show:

  • A hyper reactive amygdala
  • A less activated medial PFC

In other words, the amygdala reacts too strongly to a potential threat while the medial PFC is impaired in its ability to regulate the threat response.

Cognitive Function And Brain Structure In Ptsd

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Studies in PTSD are consistent with changes in cognition and brain structure. Multiple studies have demonstrated verbal declarative memory deficits in PTSD.,-

The meaning of findings related to deficits in memory and the hippocampus in PTSD, and questions related to the relative contribution of genetic and environmental factors, has become an important topic in the field of PTSD and stress research. There are three possible models, taking into account genetic or environmental factors, which have been proposed to explain smaller hippocampal volume in PTSD: Model A , Model B , and Model C .- In Model C , smaller hippocampal volume represents a premorbid risk factor for PTSD. In support of this model Pitman and colleagues have demonstrated that lower premilitary IQ is associated with combat-related PTSD, as well as finding a correlation between PTSD symptoms and hippocampal volume in twin brothers. Model A states that stress leads to damage or inhibition of neurogenesis via hypercortisolemia, decreased BDNF, or increased glutamate. Model B states that a combination of environmental and genetic factors leads to deficits in hippocampal function and structure. Showing that an intervention like medication changes hippocampal volume and cognition would provide support for at least a partial contribution of the environment to the outcomes of interest.

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Treatment Approaches To Trauma And Ptsd

Over the years as the scientific community has become accepting of the existence of PTSD and more open to exploring treatments a group of well-researched and increasingly-used therapies and approaches have been developed and are being implemented into treatment programs. Here we will touch on some of the most popular:

The Connection Between Ptsd And Sleep

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, affects 1 in 11 adults or 3.5% of adults every year. PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that affects people whove recently experienced a traumatic event. These events vary in severity and type and may include military battles, sexual assaults, natural disasters, serious injuries, or terrorist attacks. Many people associate PTSD with military service members but the truth is, many people can suffer from this debilitating disorder.

The most common side effects include being startled easily, irritability, anger, self-destructive behavior, and difficulty focusing and sleeping. Many PTSD sufferers are on constant alert, looking for and expecting danger, which often develops into insomnia.

Here well take a closer look at the many side effects and causes of PTSD, how this disorder interferes with sleep, and ways to combat PTSD-related insomnia.


Living a Productive Life with PTSD

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Effects Of Pharmacotherapy On Brain Function And Structure In Ptsd

We have begun to assess the effects of pharmacotherapy on brain structure and function in PTSD. We recently assessed the effects of phenytoin on brain structure and function. Studies in animals show that phenytoin, which is used in the treatment of epilepsy and is known to modulate glutamatergic function, blocks the effects of stress on the hippocampus. We studied nine patients with PTSD in an open-label function before and after treatment with phenytoin. Phenytoin resulted in a significant improvement in PTSD symptoms. Phenytoin also resulted in increases in both right hippocampal volume and right hemisphere volume. These findings indicate that phenytoin has an effects on PTSD symptoms as well as brain structure in PTSD patients.

We have assessed the effects of open4abel paroxetine on memory and the hippocampus in PTSD. Male and female patients with symptoms of PTSD were medication-free for at least 4 weeks before participation in the study. Twenty-eight patients were found to be eligible and started the medication phase. Of the total patient sample five patients did not finish due to noncompliance 23 patients completed the study.

Before patients started the medication phase, neuropsychological tests were administered, including the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale – Revised, WAISR , two subtests of the Wechsler Memory ScaleRevised.WMS-R, including logical memory and figural memory and the verbal and visual components of the Selective Reminding Test, SRT.

Ptsds Effect On The Amygdala

How Does PTSD Affect Brain Function?

The amygdala serves as your bodys natural alarm, as it controls your fear response. When you experience a traumatic incident, your amygdala reacts, causing your internal alarm to buzz, which, in most scenarios, allows you to stay safe. However, if youre battling PTSD, the amygdala may be overactive, causing simple signals, like a car alarm or a door slamming, to trigger fear or panic. It may be challenging to behave rationally when the amygdala is overactive, and your body is continually on edge.

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How To Treat Ptsd:

Considering how largely PTSD affects the brain, the treatment for PTSD is not always a straightforward endeavor. However, there have been studies that have confirmed many benefits for various types of PTSD treatments. When addressing the symptoms of PTSD, it is important to remember that the treatment process is just that a process. This means that it may take a few months to notice significant results and that progress may be slow at times. Nevertheless, seeking treatment for symptoms of PTSD is a beneficial way to address the constant traumatic stress resulting from a traumatic event. The sooner treatment is sought after the traumatic event, generally the better the results.

At NJ Family Psychiatry and Therapy, we specialize in treating individuals with PTSD, especially those who have been victims or witnesses of violence, motor-vehicle accidents, or work-related accidents. Depending on the individual and the case, we offer three distinct approaches to treating PTSD: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, medications, and biofeedback, also known as brain training.

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