Many people are exposed to trauma during their lives, whether they experience it themselves or witness it. It is common for people who live through trauma to develop symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a potentially debilitating condition that can steal your life.
What types of trauma are typically associated with PTSD? Any frightening or life-threatening event can trigger PTSD symptoms. Here are some of the most common ones:
• 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
• Other incidents in which one’s life is perceived to be threatened
Following a traumatic event, people are likely to experience a range of uncomfortable or distressing feelings. Our brains are wired to alarm us about the presence and threat of danger, so having a physical and psychological response to trauma is normal. These symptoms usually diminish as time passes. Unfortunately, not everyone heals with time. In some people symptoms persist and develop into PTSD.
In addition, in some trauma survivors, it can take weeks or months for symptoms to arise. Or they may not develop until years later when triggered by new trauma. Because of this, people often don’t associate their symptoms with the trauma they experienced.
• 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
About 1 out of 30 U.S. adults suffers from PTSD, but it can strike people of any age, including children. Women are two to three times more likely to experience the condition than men, and women tend to suffer trauma at a younger age when it has a greater impact on brain development. Left untreated, PTSD can ruin lives and even lead to suicide.
Struggling with PTSD can be distressing and can make you feel ashamed. It’s important to understand that having symptoms of PTSD is not a character flaw or a sign of personal weakness. Advanced brain imaging shows that PTSD is a biological problem in the brain.
Some symptoms of PTSD overlap with those of other conditions, including traumatic brain injury (TBI). Sleep issues, irritability, anger, concentration problems, and social isolation are commonly found in both conditions. Unfortunately, most doctors never look at the brain with brain scans, so people often go undiagnosed or are misdiagnosed and given the wrong kind of treatment.
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 brain 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 PTSD (and/or TBI) to get an accurate diagnosis and the most effective treatment.
With brain scans, seeing is believing. Brain imaging can be very helpful for people with PTSD for the following reasons:
• 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.
• Brain scans help to target treatment specifically to your individual needs so it is more effective in healing PTSD.