Are There Other Symptoms of PTSD?

Post traumatic stress disorder may affect executive function

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is known to cause emotional numbing, sleep problems and hyperarousal. Now it is believed that PTSD may have additional symptoms as well.

According to a new study, those suffering from PTSD have more trouble completing reactionary tasks.

In other words, they are less able to control automatic reactions. This may point to an inhibited executive function in the patient, which may hinder current PTSD treatments.

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The study was led by Diane Swick, PhD, of the University of California Davis Center for Neuroscience.

“Subtle impairments in executive function could hinder the effectiveness of PTSD treatments that rely on the retrieval of autobiographical memories and cognitive reappraisal techniques, such as prolonged exposure and cognitive processing therapy,” said the study authors.

There were 40 combat veterans diagnosed with PTSD (39 male) who participated in the study. An additional 33 veterans (31 male) who did not have PTSD also participated.

The participants were shown large letters on a white screen and asked to press a button once a letter appeared on screen. However, if the letter was an ‘X,’ they were not to press the button.

Also, self-reporting questionnaires were used to assess the impulsiveness, severity of PTSD symptoms and depression of the veterans.

The team found that all the veterans had similar reaction times to the letters appearing on screen. However, those with PTSD incorrectly pressed the button much more often than those without PTSD.

According to the researchers, impaired motor response is a sign of impairment of executive function, which controls other cognitive functions. Basically, there may be unseen effects of PTSD, including problems with planning, working memory, problem-solving, attention, multi-tasking, reasoning and others.

Researchers believe that these impairments may hinder traditional PTSD treatments, and that alternative treatments need to be explored.

“Since neurocognitive impairments may hinder the effectiveness of PTSD therapies that rely on cognitive reappraisal and disengagement from traumatic stimuli, incorporating treatments that strengthen executive functions might be considered in the future,” add the study authors.

The study was published online in May 2012 in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society and was funded by the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. The study authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 15, 2012
Last Updated:
October 25, 2012