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Jack Sisson's TBI Blog
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Sunday, March 11, 2012
Blasts to the Head ‘Primed’ Brains for PTSD, Study Says
The “signature wounds” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury — are both rooted in traumatic events. Until recently, though, military docs mostly treated them as two different health problems: one physical, the other psychological. That approach might be poised to change, thanks to a new study, which shows that injuries to a specific part of the brain “primed” it for PTSD’s psychological ailments.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is widely known as the psychological condition that’s followed soldiers home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The connection between war and PTSD is simple enough: Soldiers undergo a traumatic experience, if not several, overseas. Those traumas stay with them, and seem to have a profound impact on their stress hormones and brain chemistry. The result? Symptoms like nightmares, paranoia and angry outbursts.
In comparison, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) seem extremely different. These injuries are caused by a physical trauma — an IED attack, for example — that actually rattles the brain inside the skull. Subsequent brain damage can cause everything from vomiting and headaches to long-term loss of sensation and speech impediments.
Scientists have known for a while that TBIs and PTSD are connected. One 2008 study concluded that 44 percent of personnel with a TBI also suffered from PTSD, compared to 9 percent of those without physical injury. Of course, the link seems obvious: It follows that driving a Humvee that’s suddenly blown to pieces will rattle the skull and also trigger psychological distress.
But researchers now suspect that the link goes even further: They’ve concluded that the physical blow from a TBI changes a key part of the brain, making a soldier more at risk of developing PTSD in the future.
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