UCLA scientists link PTSD and brain injuries

Scientists at UCLA have uncovered a causal link between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and increased risk for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders. Even mild brain injuries increase the risk of developing anxiety disorders. As a result, after a TBI, people should avoid stressful situations, whenever possible.

This breakthrough may help the growing number of TBI victims. For example, the Brain Injury Association of Florida has 210,000 members, who are victims of brain injury. As the sports world is discovering, the psychological ramifications of concussions and other brain injuries can be devastating.

The UCLA study was fueled by observations of associations between brain injury and PTSD in military veterans. While discovering this link during the study conducted on rats, the scientists have yet to discover the reasons for this connection. It is possible that, because most events causing TBI are frightening, the connection may simply be “incidental.”

Yet, the scientists believe that TBI and PTSD “could be linked in a more mechanistic way.” To separate the physical and emotional trauma, the researchers used “fear conditioning,” to ensure that the subjects encountered the injury and the fear factor on different days. Interestingly, the survey leader, from UCLA’s Brain Research Institute, noted that “something” from the brain injury made the subject rats more susceptible to developing amazingly strong fear.

The TBI seemed to instruct the brain to “learn” to be afraid. The scientists then analyzed the rat’s amygdale (the brain’s center for learning fear). Researchers found that a brain injury puts this center in an “excitable state” that primes it to acquire inappropriately strong fear.

Further studies may uncover the reasons for these results, which may help brain injury victims from acquiring anxiety disorders.

Source: Psych Central, “Brain Injury Linked to Higher Risk for PTSD, Anxiety Disorders,” Traci Pedersen, Feb. 19, 2012