Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder & Emotional Trauma

Unlike traditional psychiatry, which rarely looks at the brain, Amen Clinics uses brain imaging technology to help distinguish PTSD and Emotional Trauma from other issues, such as traumatic brain injury (TBI).

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Many people are exposed to trauma during their lives, whether they experience it themselves, witness it in person, or are repeatedly exposed to it in the media. It is common for people who live through emotional trauma to experience a wide range of distressing feelings in the days and weeks that follow. In most people, these feelings naturally subside over time. In others, however, they persist and develop into symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a potentially debilitating condition that can steal your life. This condition can occur in anyone who has experienced trauma, but it is common in military veterans and in first responders who are routinely on the front lines responding to emergencies and crisis situations. The multiple traumas and stress they experience are expected as a part of their job, but it comes at a high cost. Repeated exposure to trauma and critical incidence stress have been shown to significantly impact mental health and can be devastating to both their personal and professional lives. PTSD (which is sometimes referred to as “critical incidence stress” or simply “emotional trauma”) is usually considered a psychological issue, but even though PTSD can impact your psychological wellbeing, it is not a mental disorder. It’s important to understand that struggling with symptoms of PTSD is not a character flaw or a sign of personal weakness. However, if it is left untreated, PTSD can cause a wide array of issues and can even lead to suicide.

Who is Affected by PTSD?

Approximately 3.5% of U.S. adults suffer from PTSD, and an estimated 1 in 11 will be diagnosed with the condition at some point during their lifetime. Although most people think the condition primarily affects military veterans, it can strike anyone—any nationality, any occupation, any ethnicity—at any age, including children.

PTSD can affect men and women, however, females are 2-3 times more likely to experience the condition than males. In addition, women tend to suffer trauma at a younger age when it has a greater impact on brain development.

Common PTSD Symptoms

Following a traumatic event people are likely to experience an array of uncomfortable reactions. Our brains are wired to alarm us about the presence and threat of danger, so having a biological and psychological response to trauma is normal. These symptoms usually diminish as time passes. However, when symptoms persist, it is a sign of PTSD. In general, any frightening, dangerous, or life-threatening event can trigger PTSD symptoms. These can include intense recollections (such as flashbacks and nightmares), avoidance of people or things that are reminders of the event, and self-destructive behavior. See below for a more comprehensive list of the signs and symptoms of PTSD.

What Causes PTSD?

In addition to being a victim of a traumatic event, you can also develop PTSD by being exposed to violent and dangerous situations through the media or other indirect ways. Some causes of PTSD include:

  • Pandemics
  • Military combat
  • Childhood abuse
  • Rape or other physical assault
  • Repeated exposure to violence
  • Seeing someone get hurt or killed
  • Being held at gunpoint
  • Automobile accidents
  • Natural disasters
  • Mass shootings
  • Kidnapping

It is common for PTSD to co-occur with other conditions, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Addictions
  • Anger issues
  • Panic Attacks
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Psychotic Disorders
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Cognitive issues
  • Memory problems

Why Choose Amen Clinics for Treating PTSD?

Most psychiatrists never look at the brain and can only make their assessment based on symptoms, which is why people often go undiagnosed or are misdiagnosed and given the wrong kind of treatment. Brain scans can be very helpful in getting a PTSD diagnosis. Two studies published by the research team at Amen Clinics showed that brain SPECT imaging is able to differentiate PTSD from TBI with a 94% accuracy rate. By comparison, MRI and CT scans often show “normal” results in people with PTSD, which makes them think they are imagining their symptoms. This research was recognized by Discover Magazine as #19 of the top 100 science stories of 2015. At Amen Clinics, a comprehensive evaluation that includes brain imaging paves the way for people with PTSD to get an accurate diagnosis and more effective treatment for faster healing.

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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 one’s 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 (TBI), 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.


Healthy Brain Scan

PTSD Brain Scan

SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) is a nuclear medicine study that evaluates blood flow and activity in the brain. Basically, it shows three things: healthy activity, too little activity, or too much activity. A healthy “active” scan shows the most active parts of the brain with blue representing the average activity and red (or sometimes red and white) representing the most active parts of the brain. In the healthy scan on the left, the most active area is in the cerebellum, at the back/bottom part of the brain. In the PTSD scan (right), a diamond pattern of increased activity is evident in the deep emotional part of the brain. The scan on the right from a person with PTSD shows a diamond pattern of increased activity in the deep emotional part of the brain.

Ready to learn more? Speak to a care coordinator today!

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Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Symptoms may develop immediately following a traumatic event. In some trauma survivors, however, it can take weeks or months for symptoms to arise. For others, they may not develop until years later when triggered by new trauma. Because of this, people often don’t associate their distressing symptoms with the trauma they experienced. You may not have all of the following symptoms, but people with PTSD usually have several of them.

  • 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
  • A refusal to talk about the event
  • Inability to discuss one’s feeling about the trauma
  • Distressing memories
  • Inability to stop thinking about the incident
  • Increased or excessive anxiety
  • Heightened fearfulness
  • Always being on guard or “jumpy”
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Problems with sleep
  • Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyed
  • Anger and irritability
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Social isolation
  • Self-destructive behavior


“With A Better Brain Comes A Better Life”

– Daniel G. Amen, M.D.


PTSD Testimonials

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