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The Connection Between Traumatic Brain Injury & Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Each Illinois brain injury lawyer at our firm has followed along closely over the past few months as more and more attention has been paid to head injuries suffered by our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Two things are we are seeing over and over are traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. Recently, a new story from Medical Express discussed how scientists are beginning to unravel the connections between these two brain injuries. Hopefully the work into this area will be that start of developing better treatment options that can tackle both of these harms and improve the lives of these servicemembers.

The new information is coming out of UCLA, where university life scientists have found the first evidence which seems to scientifically link the experiencing of a traumatic brain injury to the susceptibility of post-traumatic stress disorder. The findings were published last week in the Biological Psychology journal. The report summarizing the work suggests that those who suffered the head trauma which causes a TBI are more likely to develop anxiety disorder. The development of that anxiety disorder is often a precursor to more serious forms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The study’s authors suggest that this is even more reason for those who suffer a TBI to avoid stressful situation for a period of time after suffering the injury. We have often explained how medical experts similarly suggest that all those who suffer these brain injuries avoid stressful situations, such as student athletes facing tough school exams after suffering a concussion.

The senior author of the study explained that the research was conducted in rats and motivated by a desire to find a link between the conditions which so often affect servicemembers. This particular study was the first to link the two conditions. However, the effort was about a correlation between traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress-not causation. The actual reason that the two conditions are connected remains unclear. At a basic level, researchers suspect that one option may be that the experiencing of a TBI is simply a frightening and life-altering event, which itself might create the link. In that way the connectional might be merely incidental. This is different than if the brain injury somehow physically changed something about the individual internally which led to an increased risk of the stress disorder.

Yet, the study author’s believe that the two could actually “be linked in a more mechanistic way.” To get at this possible connection the scientists conducted “fear conditioning” in rats with brain injuries. The author summarized the results by explaining, “something about the brain injury rendered [the animals] more susceptible to acquiring an inappropriately strong fear. It was as if the injury primed the brain for learning to be afraid.” Delving deeper the scientists found that the amygdale may play a role. Essentially, the brain injury leaves the amygdale in a more excitable state, which in essence readies it for potent fear. The readiness to be afraid is one of the hallmarks of post traumatic stress disorder.

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