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How PTSD Affects Your Brain Functions

How PTSD Affects Your Brain Functions

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects every area of an individual’s life, leaving virtually nothing unscathed. Although PTSD is commonly used to describe the effects of warfare on soldiers, this disorder can affect anyone who lives through a traumatic experience and is a long-lasting consequence of traumatic events that overwhelm a person’s ability to cope. PTSD affects more people in the United States than you may realize- approximately 10% of women and 4% of men.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a mental condition that results from a traumatic experience in one’s life. These experiences usually center around a life-threatening event in someone’s life or in the life of a loved one.

Typical causes of PTSD include:

  • Serious road accidents
  • Military combat
  • Hostage situations
  • Personal assaults: sexual, violent or otherwise
  • Natural disaster experiences
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Witnessing violent deaths
  • And several others

PTSD can manifest itself in different forms including nightmares, flashbacks, emotional flooding, distressing thoughts and hyper-arousal (a state of constantly being on edge). Those with PTSD may experience some or all of these symptoms but they have to last for at least two weeks to qualify as such.

Areas of The Brain Affected by PTSD

The Amygdala

The amygdala is a small area located in the middle of the temporal lobe. This part of the brain is linked to both fear and pleasure responses, including fight-or-flight and storing emotional or threat-related memories.

When your brain detects a threat, it sends the amygdala into defensive mode, resulting in a fight-or-flight response. When the fight-or-flight response is triggered it sends messages to the body to release adrenaline, norepinephrine, and glucose to give you the energy you need to protect yourself.

The Prefrontal Cortex (PFC)

If the amygdala is the initiator of the fight-or-flight response, the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the assessor and regulator of such a response. The PFC is meant to assess threats and determine whether or not the body will continue its response or calm down.

Unfortunately, those with PTSD do not react as others with typical brain function would, instead their amygdala overreacts to stimuli and the medial prefrontal cortex is impaired in its ability to regulate the threat response.

Effects Of PTSD

The effects of an unregulated amygdala due to an underperforming prefrontal cortex lead to feelings of hyper-arousal, which can trigger hyper-vigilance and increased sleep disruption. These feelings can compound and exacerbate other symptoms of PTSD. Lack of sleep, for example, can add to the problems stemming from PTSD, including increased frequency of nightmares, sleep paralysis and insomnia. These effects also increase feelings of aggression, anger and impulsivity in those who suffer from PTSD, potentially leading to outbursts when emotionally triggered.

Treatments for PTSD

There are several known treatments for PTSD including:

But how do you know which treatment is right for you or a loved one with PTSD? One useful tool, which may help identify an effective treatment path, is genetic testing. The Genecept Assay® from Genomind is a genetic test created to assist clinicians and patients in optimizing treatment decisions by interpreting individuals’ genetic markers. Because there are a wide variety of treatment options the Genecept Assay can help your provider select appropriate pharmacotherapy, an important component of the treatment plan. Patients seeking more information should check our resources for choosing a clear path forward. Clinicians can find all of the information they need to know about the test here.

This blog post references a Psychology Today article by Melanie Greenberg Ph.D.

Categories: Mental Health News
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