A Bump On The Head: The Risk of PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder severity may be linked to mild concussions

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) A concussion is serious business. Even a mild hit on the head can cause neuronal damage. While these small damages may not drastically affect civilians, the risks could be greater for soldiers.

According to a new study, neuronal damage could be linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a severe mental disorder.

Essentially, those who have had head injuries are more likely to develop symptoms of PTSD when faced with trauma. The worse the head injury, the worse the PTSD symptoms.

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"Most people believe that, to a large extent, chronic stress from intense combat experiences triggers PTSD. Our study adds more information by suggesting that a physical force such as exposure to a bomb blast also may play a role in the genesis the syndrome," said Jeffrey J. Bazarian, MD, MPH, associate professor of Emergency Medicine at University of Rochester Medical Center.

The researchers interviewed 52 veterans who served in the military between 2001 and 2008. About four years after active duty, the veterans were asked about PTSD symptoms, exposure to explosions and other combat experiences.

Combat stress was measured using a standard Walter Reed Institute of Research Combat Experiences Survey.

Veterans also underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) scans. The DTI scan was used to measure neuronal damage caused by a concussion.

Of the 52 veterans, 30 suffered at least one mild traumatic brain injury. Seven reported more than one.

All of the veterans showed symptoms of PTSD, and 15 met qualifications for a formal diagnosis.

The severity of their symptoms was related to the neuronal damage seen in the DTI scans.

Five veterans showed abnormalities in their MRI scan. These five also had the worst PTSD symptoms of the group.

"Based on our results, it looks like the only way to detect this injury is with DTI/MRI," Bazarian said. "While it may not be feasible due to costs and limited availability of some neuro-imaging tests to screen thousands of service members for brain injury, our study highlights the pressing need to develop simpler tests that are accurate and practical, that correlate with brain injury."

The study was published in the May 2012 edition of the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation and was funded by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. 

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Review Date: 
June 7, 2012
Last Updated:
October 23, 2012