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PTSD Not Just A Mental Health Condition: Psychiatric Disorder May Also Have Physical Effects On The Brain

Post-traumatic stress disorder is often attributed to experiences of traumatic events that caused emotional side effects such as nightmares and anxiety.

Not Just A Mental Condition

PTSD is known as a mental health condition but findings of a new research suggest that this psychiatric disorder may also lead to physical changes in the brain.

For the new study to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's Sports Concussion Conference, which will be held from July 14 to 16, researchers looked at the brain scans of 89 former and current military members suffering from mild traumatic brain injuries.

Of the participants, 29 had significant PTSD. The researchers found that those with PTSD have larger amygdala, a region of the brain involved in controlling emotions such as fear.

"It could be that individuals prone to PTSD symptoms after a head injury have a larger amygdala to begin with, that they have a brain primed to respond to fear and startle reflexes in an exaggerated fashion," said study author Douglas Chang, from University of California San Diego.

Chang said the changes could also be the result of neuroplasticity as the brain reacts to fear conditions.

Improving Detection And Treatment Of PTSD

The research only involved military members who sustained blast injuries so it is not clear if the findings would be the same for other members of the general populations, which include those who suffered sports-related injuries.

Nonetheless, the study offers hope of improving the way PTSD is detected and treated, which may be done by considering both the physical and psychological signs. The idea that a certain region of the brain is larger in people with PTSD could give health experts something outside the mind to study.

"These findings have the potential to change the way we approach PTSD diagnosis and treatment," said study researcher Joel Pieper, from University of California, San Diego.

The new study backs up results of earlier studies that found changes in the brains of PTSD patients. In a 2016 study, Chinese researchers found disruptions in the neural network structure in the brain of PTSD patients. The study involved children who experienced the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Veterans who have gone to war commonly suffer from PTSD. Between 11 percent and 20 percent of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are believed to have developed the psychiatric disorder. Loud sounds and sudden flashes of light, such as those caused by fireworks, can trigger stress and anxiety in veterans who suffer from PTSD.

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