Members of the United States Armed Forces face challenges that most civilians find hard to even imagine. In addition to the risk of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that many face on the battlefields, these brave individuals often suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well. A recent report by Psych Central discusses a study to better understand the similarities between TBIs and PTSD, which often affect patients simultaneously.
What is a TBI?
The National institute of Health (NIH) defines a TBI as damage to the brain that is caused by an external force. The level of severity can range from a mild concussion to extensive loss of consciousness, amnesia and cognitive impairments.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is defined as an anxiety disorder that develops following a traumatic event in an individual’s life. It includes recurring symptoms, like nightmares or psychological distress when memories of the event are triggered.
The Study Details
According to the Psych Central report, 208 veterans participated in the research study. Their service included Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn. All participants experienced some type of traumatic event during their time in battle.
The study reportedly showed weak connectivity within two networks among veterans with severe PTSD (frequent flashbacks of the traumatizing event). The first altered network is the area of the brain that provides context to information. According to the study, problems in this network may lead to an overgeneralization of trauma memories. When this occurs, the brain may become unable to properly identify non-threatening situations. The second altered network negatively affects the working memory, which is the ability to process and store newly acquired information.
Dr. John Krystal is editor of Biological Psychiatry. He is quoted in the article as stating, “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.”
The NIH also recognizes similarities between the symptoms that often accompany PTSD and those linked to TBI. The agency explains that the two conditions are often present together because brain injuries often stem from traumatic events. Its studies also reportedly suggest that the presence of even a mild TBI increases the risk of PTSD. As explained by the NIH, Some relevant symptoms of TBI include:
*Becoming numb to emotions and feelings
*An inability to gain full awareness of surroundings
*Various levels of amnesia
*Demonstrating increased aggression
*Exhibiting destructive and reckless actions
Relevant symptoms of PTSD include:
*Reliving the traumatic event within the mind
*Actively avoiding situations that trigger memories of the event
*Demonstrating Increased aggression
*Exhibiting destructive and reckless behavior
As identified by agency studies, avoidance and withdrawal are symptoms often seen among TBI and PTSD patients, along with aggressive and destructive behaviors. The co-occurrence of these two conditions can further frustrate treatment and care for affected patients.