What is PTSD? – Mia FuQua

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

The human brain is the central command center, otherwise known as the powerhouse of the human body. It’s made up of muscles, nerves, and a complex structure; the human brain is ideal in one’s everyday life. But when exposed to an external injury, the brain changes and undergoes healing. While having PTSD, or a TBI (traumatic brain injury), the brain cells can be damaged and tampers with the way the brain functions on a day-to-day basis. With post traumatic stress disorder, there are three main areas of the brain that are altered, which are the amygdala, ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), and the hippocampus, or the frontal lobe and midbrain. When one area is negatively affected, the other two become impacted as well. Each one is dependent on another to function properly.

Emotions are processed in the amygdala, it controls the fight or flight response and fear reactions. A patient with PTSD consistently has more activity in the amygdala. Patients with a hyperactive amygdala show signs of stress, anxiety, and fear when shown photos linked to a traumatic event. The more activity one has in the amygdala, the worse the case will be. Researchers believe this could lead to other mood disorders such as bipolar depression and/or schizophrenia, which affects a part of the hippocampus called CA1 along with the subiculum. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) has long term effects due to the incident and later emotional trauma, unlike the amygdala. The vmPFC is located in the prefrontal cortex and determines decision making and self control. When met with particular stimuli, the vmPFC area regulates negative emotions(fear). Stimuli that are mostly affected are chemoreceptors(chemicals) or the endocrine-system response. When healthy, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is vital to emotions and processing surroundings, but when damaged the vmPFC is scary and plays a kind of trick on yourself; nightmares, worrying, etc.

The hippocampus and frontal lobe of the brain are the most affected due to neurological trauma. Some patient’s hippocampus gets reduced in volume overtime. Due to environmental stimuli, the hippocampus records memories and retrieves them later, recording the data to determine the past from the present. With the reduced availability of the hippocampus, a patient can’t interpret environmental situations. For example, a military veteran cannot watch a violent movie because their hippocampus can’t minimize interferences, causing the brain to think its real.

Sexual assault, child abuse, rape, war, witnessing violence, near death experiences, or a loved one in a similar event. These being highly stressful and traumatic occurrences are what can cause post traumatic stress disorder. Some suffer from it for months to years, most with scarring memories. Although everyone’s brain is different, many go through emotional and physical feelings and reactions. Some of these symptoms may include, depression, anger, easily scared, hypervigilance, flashbacks, insomnia, and the abusing of drugs and or alcohol. PTSD comes in four main types, normal stress response, acute stress disorder, uncomplicated PTSD, and complex PTSD. Acute stress disorder(ASD) occurs within a month of the traumatic stressor, while uncomplicated and complex PTSD can develope months/years after the event. Although not certain to happen, ASD and PTSD can follow one another. Both disorders can also be helped, not always completely cured by treatments.

PTSD has been proven to be helped by multiple treatments, some therapeutic and others by medication. Treatments depend on the symptoms and severity of the disorder. Often used medications include serotonergic antidepressants and fluoxetine (Prozac). These help ease depression, a common symptom of PTSD by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin being a neurotransmitter that carries signals between brain cells. Other forms of regimen are prolonged exposure therapy and cognitive processing, both forms of therapy.

The probability of getting PTSD is low in the US but the chance increases if he or she was in a war zone, about 30 percent. Overall, in the US about 7.8 % americans will experience PTSD in their lifetime. Of this percentage, women are 10.4% affected while men are only 5%. While few are affected by PTSD, many are by stress. Stress is occasionally mistaken for PTSD but there are many differences. Stress can and is a daily emotional/physical strain which can lead to anxiety(etc.). PTSD is a stress that is definitive to and after trauma, along with more extreme symptoms.

PTSD is a complex and difficult disorder, which many deal with everyday. With scientists researching pathophysiology, they believe that with drugs and behavioral therapies the disorder is almost reversible. The hippocampus has shown to grow in volume in PTSD patients. The human brain is very delicate but PTSD is decreasing, slowly.

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