Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD is a potentially debilitating condition that develops as a result of exposure (experiencing or witnessing) to very traumatic and often life-threatening events.

It is estimated that each year, 1 out of 30 U.S. adults is suffering with PTSD. However, anyone at any age can develop it, including children. Left untreated, PTSD can ruin lives and even lead to suicide.

While not everyone exposed to trauma has, or will get, PTSD, this serious mental health condition is usually caused by experiences such as:

  • Military combat
  • Rape or other physical assault
  • Childhood abuse
  • Exposure to violence
  • Being held at gunpoint
  • Seeing someone get seriously hurt or killed
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Natural disasters
  • Automobile accidents
  • Kidnapping
  • Other incidents in which one’s life is perceived to be threatened

After a traumatic incident, it is common for people to develop some of the symptoms associated with PTSD. Our brains are wired to alarm us about the presence and threat of danger, so having a physical and psychological response to trauma is very normal, but the symptoms should eventually diminish. Unfortunately, however, not everyone heals with time.

Additionally, PTSD symptoms may not develop right after a traumatic event; rather, they emerge several months later. For some people, it may even be years later — particularly if triggered by a new trauma.

PTSD symptoms often include:

  • Intense recollections such as flashbacks and nightmares
  • Inability to recall certain aspects of what happened
  • Avoidance of people, places or things that are reminders of the event
  • Distressing memories
  • Inability to stop thinking about the incident
  • Increased or excessive anxiety
  • Always being on guard or “jumpy”
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Problems with sleep
  • Anger and irritability
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Social isolation

Having the symptoms of PTSD is not a character flaw or a sign of personal weakness. The symptoms tell us that there is a biological problem in the brain in response to significant trauma. Reaching out for help is a sign of strength.

Using SPECT to differentiate PTSD from other disorders, such as traumatic brain injury (TBI):

Some symptoms of PTSD overlap with those of other conditions, including traumatic brain injury (TBI) where sleep problems, irritability or anger, concentration problems and social isolation are commonly found in both. Because of this, people can be misdiagnosed and given the wrong type of treatment if no one actually looks at their brain.

Two research studies published in 2015 by the research team at Amen Clinics, in collaboration with scientists from UCLA, Thomas Jefferson University, and the University of British Columbia, were able to differentiate PTSD from TBI with high accuracy using SPECT imaging. This achievement was recognized by Discover Magazine as #19 of the top 100 science stories of 2015. This research paves the way for people suffering with one or both of these conditions to get the correct treatment.

Brain SPECT imaging helps:

  • Demonstrate that symptoms and behaviors are not imaginary, thereby reducing emotional pain and stigma
  • Families gain a better understanding of what is actually going on in the brain of their loved one
  • Helps to target treatment specifically to your brain

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