A team of researchers says they have found evidence showing those who develop post-traumatic stress disorder after a brain injury also have distinct changes in their brains.
Specifically, the amygdala – a region of the brain responsible for regulating emotion – is significantly larger in those who develop PTSD after a brain injury compared when compared to those who experienced TBI but not PTSD and healthy individuals.
“Many consider PTSD to be a psychological disorder, but our study found a key physical difference in the brains of military-trained individuals with brain injury and PTSD,” said Dr. Joel Pieper, from the University of California, San Diego.
“These findings have the potential to change the way we approach PTSD diagnosis and treatment,” he added.
The researchers came to this conclusion after scanning the brains of 89 current and former members of the U.S. military who had been diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury. The results showed that the amygdala in the 29 patients who also had PTSD was approximately 6% larger, particularly on the right side of the brain.
While the amygdala is tasked with controlling emotion, memories, and behavior, research has indicated the right side of the amygdala is specifically essential in controlling fears and aversion to unpleasant experiences.
The findings are set to be presented today at the American Academy of Neurology’s Sports Concussion Conference and should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Based on the findings, Pieper suggests that “amygdala size could be used to screen who is most at risk to develop PTSD symptoms after a mild traumatic brain injury.“
“On the other hand, if there are environmental or psychological cues that lead to brain changes and enlargement of the amygdala, then maybe such influences can be monitored and treated,” he added.
“Further studies are needed to better define the relationship between amygdala size and PTSD in mild traumatic brain injury,” Pieper said. “Also, while these findings are significant, it remains to be seen whether similar results may be found in those with sports-related concussions.”