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How Does Ptsd Affect The Brain

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The Hippocampus’ Role In Ptsd

How Does PTSD Affect Brain Function?

Many people with PTSD experience memory-related difficulties. They may have difficulty recalling certain parts of their traumatic event. Alternatively, some memories may be vivid and always present for these individuals.

People with PTSD may also have problems overcoming their fear response to thoughts, memories or situations that are reminiscent of their traumatic event. Due to the hippocampus’ role in memory and emotional experience, it is thought that some of the problems people with PTSD experience may lie in the hippocampus.

S Of The Brain Impacted By Ptsd

Certain structures of the brain are closely related to some of the symptoms of PTSD. These structures include the amygdala and hippocampus several parts of the prefrontal cortex the mid-anterior cingulate cortex and the right inferior frontal gyrus.

PTSD causes the hyper-activation of some brain structures while other areas become hypoactive.

Both the amygdala and the mid-anterior cingulate cortex become over-stimulated when a person has PTSD. However, the hippocampus, right inferior frontal gyrus, ventromedial PFC, dorsolateral PFC, and orbitofrontal cortex all become hypoactive, some to the point of atrophy.

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How Trauma Affects The Brain:

PTSD is characterized by intrusive thoughts, hyperarousal, flashbacks, nightmares and sleep disturbances, changes in memory and concentration, and startle responses. It is believed, but not yet proven, that these symptoms exist because the brain structure and function have undergone stress-induced changes as a result of a traumatic event.

The amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex are stimulated during a stress response, therefore traumatic stress directly affects these parts of the brain. Individuals with PTSD generally show smaller hippocampal and anterior cingulate volumes, increased amygdala function, and decreased medial prefrontal/anterior cingulate function. Because the hippocampus, amygdala, and medial prefrontal cortex are altered, this can cause changes in memory function.

The hippocampus is especially receptive to stress effects and its functioning can easily be changed during prolonged exposure to stressors. Changes or damages to the hippocampus as a result of stress can cause individuals to have trouble with verbally declaring memories, which is perhaps one reason why memories of the event exhibit themselves through other means. In fact, the hippocampus can actually decrease in size as a result of traumatic stress, and this is seen exclusively in patients with PTSD when compared to other anxiety-based disorders.

Emotion Trauma And The Prefrontal Cortex

Healing a Battle

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that regulates emotions. This emotion-regulating center is often affected after trauma and becomes vulnerable to other parts of the brain.

Normally, the amygdala will sense a negative emotion, such as fear, and the prefrontal cortex will rationally react to this emotion. After trauma though, this rationality might be overridden and your prefrontal cortex will have a hard time regulating fear and other emotions.

So, these three parts of the brain- the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex- are the most-affected areas of the brain from trauma.

They can make a trauma survivor constantly fearful, especially when triggered by events and situations that remind them of their past trauma.

Overcoming emotional trauma is a long process, but it is possible. If you are suffering from after-effects of emotional trauma or PTSD, know that recovering from your trauma is possible.

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The Benefits Of Early Treatment For Post

These physical and psychological symptoms can mean long-term dangerous effects, especially the longer it takes for a person to get treatment for PTSD. The risks of developing or worsening co-occurring mental health disorders also increase when necessary treatment is delayed. If you have a loved one who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, its very important to recognize that they need compassionate clinical care. This is the only way for them to safely overcome the difficult obstacles to processing their trauma and to mitigate the possible risks to their brain and body health.

Whereas life with post-traumatic stress disorder can feel volatile and out of control, treatment for PTSD can feel safe and supportive for someone who has been haunted by their trauma for a long time. Long-term treatment gives clients a chance to develop strong, trusting relationships with their therapists, who can help them to truly reshape the active relationship to stress and trauma. Only in the context of a treatment center, under the close assessment of clinicians, can a clients particular treatment needs be determined. PTSD treatment options are diverse, and individualized plans respond to each persons recovery needs. Healing begins here.

Neuroscience Explains The Anxiety And Hypervigilance Of People With Ptsd

About 10 percent of women and 4 percent of men will develop Post-TraumaticStress Disorder over their lifetimes. Men and women who have experienced sexual trauma are at increased risk, especially if the trauma occurred at a young age or was repeated.

PTSD is a mental health condition that may involve disturbances in threat perception, threat sensitivity, self-image, and emotional functioning. It can cause serious disruption in the ability to have healthy, satisfying relationships or tolerate lifes uncertainties, failures, and rejections without excess distress. It can also cause phobias, sleep disturbance, negative mood, anxiety, and attention/concentration difficulties that interfere with academic or career success. Research in neuroscience suggests impaired functioning in brain areas responsible for threat detection/response and emotion regulation account for many PTSD symptoms.

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Why Does Ptsd Cause Brain Fog

How Does Trauma Effect the Brain?

Brain fog is caused by a number of different factors. Factors which might influence brain fog symptoms include diet, hormonal changes, certain medications, medical conditions, mental health difficulties and Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder .

PTSD symptoms can include intrusion symptoms, persistent avoidance, negative alterations in cognitions and moods and alterations in arousal and reactivity. They can also include brain fog.

One of the reasons that PTSD causes brain fog is that the brain is not functioning optimally if you have PTSD. PTSD affects a number of brain areas specifically the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortex. The amygdala detects threats and activates the sympathetic nervous system. The prefrontal cortex regulates decisions in relation to a possible threat, helps to regulate emotions and helps to determine the meaning and emotional significance of an event and regulates our attention to it.

If someone is experiencing PTSD symptoms these parts of the brain function differently. The amygdala can become hyper-sensitive and the pre-frontal cortex works less hard than usual. Pictures highlight this change in the brain by showing high levels of activity in the amygdala and low levels in the pre-frontal cortex. It is not surprising therefore that you are unable to think clearly, and your brain feels foggy because the pre-frontal cortex is not firing normally.

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How Does Trauma Affect The Brain

When we experience a traumatic event, our brain chemistry and functioning changes in response to the emotional and physical consequences of that event.

Traumatic events include a wide range of experiences, including:

  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Death of a loved one
  • Financial, professional, or personal loss

There is no standard definition of a traumatic experience for everyone, and each of these experiences takes a unique toll on us as individuals. While all of us experience traumatic stress in different ways, our brains process stress in mostly predictable patterns. In general, there are three major areas of our brain that are shaped by stressful experiences. These are:

  • The hippocampus, which helps control memory, learning, and interpretation of information. This area of the brain may become less active under stress and, in fact, may actually shrink. This shrinkage reduces the amount of information and memories we can effectively process at one time. In addition, a smaller and less active hippocampus means we are less likely to be able to process any new information when we are experiencing traumatic stress.
  • The amygdala, which helps us process our emotions. During periods of intense stress, the amygdalas role in the brain is to serve as an alarm system, alerting the rest of the brain to potential risk. While this is useful in life-or-death situations, the amygdala can be triggered by traumatic stress, too, causing the brain to enter fight-or-flight mode over and over again.

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    What Is The Hippocampus

    The hippocampus is a part of the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system describes a group of brain structures that surround the brain stem. The brain structures that make up the limbic system play a major role in how one experiences certain emotions , motivations, and memory.

    The hippocampus is responsible for the ability to store and retrieve memories. People who have experienced some kind of damage to their hippocampus may have difficulties storing and recalling information. Along with other limbic structures, the hippocampus also plays a role in a person’s ability to overcome fear responses.

    Do You Ever Get Over Childhood Trauma

    Traumatic experiences change the brain

    Yes, unresolved childhood trauma can be healed. Seek out therapy with someone psychoanalytically or psychodynamically trained. A therapist who understands the impact of childhood experiences on adult life, particularly traumatic ones. Have several consultations to see if you feel empathically understood.

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    Effects Of Pharmacotherapy On Brain Function And Structure In Ptsd

    We have begun to assess the effects of pharmacotherapy on brain structure and function in PTSD. We recently assessed the effects of phenytoin on brain structure and function. Studies in animals show that phenytoin, which is used in the treatment of epilepsy and is known to modulate glutamatergic function, blocks the effects of stress on the hippocampus. We studied nine patients with PTSD in an open-label function before and after treatment with phenytoin. Phenytoin resulted in a significant improvement in PTSD symptoms. Phenytoin also resulted in increases in both right hippocampal volume and right hemisphere volume. These findings indicate that phenytoin has an effects on PTSD symptoms as well as brain structure in PTSD patients.

    We have assessed the effects of open4abel paroxetine on memory and the hippocampus in PTSD. Male and female patients with symptoms of PTSD were medication-free for at least 4 weeks before participation in the study. Twenty-eight patients were found to be eligible and started the medication phase. Of the total patient sample five patients did not finish due to noncompliance 23 patients completed the study.

    Before patients started the medication phase, neuropsychological tests were administered, including the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale – Revised, WAISR , two subtests of the Wechsler Memory ScaleRevised.WMS-R, including logical memory and figural memory and the verbal and visual components of the Selective Reminding Test, SRT.

    Treatment Approaches To Trauma And Ptsd

    Over the years as the scientific community has become accepting of the existence of PTSD and more open to exploring treatments a group of well-researched and increasingly-used therapies and approaches have been developed and are being implemented into treatment programs. Here we will touch on some of the most popular:

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    Ending Our Time Together

    Traumatic events cause many chemical reactions and initiate the fight/flight/freeze response, but for some, these chemicals never return to baseline, causing damage to some regions of the brain.

    60% of men and 50% of women will experience one or more traumatic events in their lifetime. These statistics mean that more research must happen to increase our knowledge and thus treatments for PTSD.

    The brain areas affected by PTSD control memory, reasoning, and thought, causing the victim to experience difficulties remembering events, thinking, and learning new information.

    Epigenetics, a new kid on the block of neuro-research about PTSD, has found that a persons genes are changed by trauma and that these changes can be passed to their progeny.

    The next stage of research and learning about post-traumatic stress disorder will involve those who formed PTSD due to the COVID-19 pandemic as people emerge from isolation and face a new world.

    Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated, the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams, healing can begin. ~ Danielle Bernock


    Bremner JD. Alterations in brain structure and function associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. Semin Clin Neuropsychiatry. 1999 Oct 4:249-55. DOI: 10.153/SCNP00400249. PMID: 10553030.

    Epigenetics. Wikipedia. Retrieved from:

    How Common Is Post

    PTSD and the Brain

    Experiencing trauma is not rare as approximately 6 of every 10 men , and 5 of every 10 women will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Men are more likely to experience trauma in the form of accidents, physical assault, combat, or witness death or injury. Women are more likely to experience sexual assault and child sexual abuse.

    Some people have inherited a gene from a parent who had PTSD, making them more susceptible to forming it themselves.

    However, post-traumatic stress disorder can strike anyone at any time regardless of age or other demographics. No one is immune from PTSD, and as the world changes, it becomes more likely for one to experience a traumatic event that causes it.

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    Ptsd Brains Work Differently

    People with PTSD tend to have too much activity in the brain. On SPECT scans, overactivity is seen in the limbic, basal ganglia, and anterior cingulate gyrus in what looks like a diamond pattern. With brain scans, seeing is believing. Brain imaging can be very helpful for people with PTSD for a number of reasons, including:

    • Brain scans show that PTSD symptoms and behaviors are caused by biological changes in the brain, NOT by some personal failure, thereby reducing emotional pain and stigma.
    • Seeing a brain scan helps families gain a better understanding that their loved ones PTSD symptoms are not their fault. This promotes forgiveness and encourages families to become more involved in the healing process.
    • Brain scans help to personalize treatment to your needs so it is more effective.
    • Brain imaging can help differentiate PTSD from traumatic brain injury , which has many overlapping symptoms.
    • Brain imaging studies can show if treatment is working or if it needs to be adjusted to improve the healing process.

    Ptsds Effect On The Amygdala

    The amygdala serves as your bodys natural alarm, as it controls your fear response. When you experience a traumatic incident, your amygdala reacts, causing your internal alarm to buzz, which, in most scenarios, allows you to stay safe. However, if youre battling PTSD, the amygdala may be overactive, causing simple signals, like a car alarm or a door slamming, to trigger fear or panic. It may be challenging to behave rationally when the amygdala is overactive, and your body is continually on edge.

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    Neural Circuits In Women With Abuse And Ptsd

    PTSD subjects had increased symptoms of anxiety, fear, dissociation, distress, substance use disorders , and PTSD at all time points during both study days relative to non-PTSD. Acquisition of fear was associated with increased skin conductance responses to CS exposure during the active versus the control conditions in all subjects. There was increased SC for PTSD during the first CS-UCS presentation. Extinction of fear was associated with increased skin conductance responses to CS exposure during the active versus the control conditions in all subjects. When PTSD and non-PTSD subjects were examined separately, SC levels were significantly elevated in non-PTSD subjects undergoing extinction following the active compared with the control condition during session one.

    What Are The Effects Of Ptsd On The Brain

    How does trauma affect the brain?

    The effects of PTSD on the brain seem to suggest that there is a biological basis for the symptoms of this disorder. Scientists believe that the experience of extreme psychological trauma may cause physical changes in the brain. It may be possible, however, that inherent differences in brain structure and function make some people vulnerable to PTSD. The effects of PTSD on the brain occur mostly in the amygdala, a part of the brain that helps control emotions. The hippcampus, prefrontal lobe, and prefrontal cortex may suffer damage due to traumatic experiences, and some experts believe that the effects of PTSD on the brain include changes in the way the brain uses certain neurotransmitters, like dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline.

    Many sufferers of PTSD experience a numbed emotional state following the onset of symptoms. Experts believe this may be due to increased levels of the neurotransmitters responsible for the relief of pain. The effects of PTSD on the brain can also include a decreased ability to use the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is generally responsible for feelings of well-being. This could explain why depressed feelings often accompany PTSD.

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