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Similarities between PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury

Similarities between PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury

New imaging studies on veterans show the complexity of brain networks believed to be involved in both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Both conditions are associated with high rates of disability and suicide, and although they are separate conditions, they commonly co-occur.

For example, a soldier who has developed PTSD as a result of a traumatic experience may have also sustained a brain injury during that experience.

Significant research has been conducted to understand the brain mechanisms underlying PTSD and TBI, but there has still been a lack of knowledge regarding exactly which brain networks are disturbed in these disorders.

To fill this gap, Dr. Jeffrey Spielberg and his colleagues at the VA Boston Healthcare System examined brain networks in veterans with trauma exposure using functional magnetic resonance imaging and graph theory tools.

Graph theory is a new sophisticated analysis that visualizes brain networks at a level of complexity that was previously impossible. It permits examination of the patterns of brain connections, as opposed to examining individual connections.

For the study, researchers recruited 208 veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn, all of whom had experienced a traumatic event. They found that veterans who had more severe PTSD re-experiencing symptoms (e.g., flashbacks or reliving the event) showed weaker connectivity in two networks.

The first altered network includes the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, and is involved in providing contextual information. This suggests that perhaps the hippocampus may be overgeneralizing trauma-related memories, and therefore, fails to correctly classify non-threatening cues as “safe”.

The second network, which was identified only in veterans with comorbid mild TBI, includes the basal ganglia and prefrontal cortex, and plays a role in working memory.

The study did have limitations because the veterans studied had already experienced a traumatic event. Therefore researchers could not identify with certainty whether the observed brain network disturbances were present in these individuals before the trauma occurred, or whether they occurred as a result of the trauma exposure.

Future research of at-risk individuals, perhaps examining soldiers before and after military deployment, will be necessary to clarify this point.

“It may never be possible to fully distinguish the role of the severity of stress, the capacity for resilience to stress effects, and the presence of mild TBI in PTSD-related distress and disability because these factors are so complex and intimately entwined,” said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of the journal Biological Psychiatry.

“However, this study suggests that there are subtle but important differences in brain circuit functional connectivity related to the impact of traumatic stress among individuals with and without TBI. These data provide additional evidence that TBI may complicate the capacity for recovery from traumatic stress-related symptoms.”

Source: Elsevier

Similarities between PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Similarities between PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 22, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2015/07/24/similarities-between-ptsd-and-traumatic-brain-injury/87274.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.