Ever Suffered A Concussion? Your Brain Might Be Vulnerable To PTSD, Studies Suggest

Hemal Vora

For years, scientists have surmised a link between concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Scientists have suspected that even a mild brain injury can increase the chances of PTSD. The evidence to support these claims is mounting with several recent studies.

After suffering from concussions (even a mild one), most people feel its effect on their brain for days and even weeks. Doctors call it post-concussion syndrome, which results in headaches and dizziness. The injury to the brain need not be a major one, so even a mild blow to the brain is medically considered a concussion.

In a study conducted by French physicians and American researchers, a link has been revealed between concussions and PTSD.

French physicians studied 1,361 patients three months after they had sustained some form of injury. Out of the sample group, 827 patients had non-head-related injuries, whereas 534 patients had concussions. After three months, 21 percent of the concussion patients and 16 percent of patients who had no head injury were detected with post-concussion syndrome.

The researchers then analyzed the data for symptoms of PTSD and post-concussion syndrome. The results from the studies confirmed that the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome would fit into symptoms of hyperarousal-type PTSD. The researchers were successful in establishing a link between concussions and PTSD.

A similar study was conducted on deployed soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan to find a link between concussions and PTSD.

According to a study published in Journal of the American Medical Association, "Marines who had suffered a concussion were twice as likely to suffer from PTSD, a condition which is often associated with nightmares, anxiety, and flashbacks."

The study found several service members, such as Charles Mayer, had suffered from PTSD post-retirement. Charles Mayer, an army sniper, developed PTSD after his deployment.

As reported in NPR, Charles Mayer said, "When I would walk down the street, I would walk away from trash piles because that's often how they would hide IEDs," he further added, "I would get severe panic attacks to the point where I would have to go to the hospital, I would feel like I'm actually having a heart attack."

Dewleen Baker, who had diagnosed Charles with post-traumatic stress disorder, said, "We had people who were looking very miserable when they came back, I could easily diagnose the PTSD. But I found it very, very difficult to tease apart the contribution of traumatic brain injury."

Dewleen Baker and her team began a study involving 1,600 Marines and Navy service members. The service members had been assessed prior to and three months after their deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. Baker and her team came across several battalions that had more than 50 percent of men who were exposed to blasts and suffered minor concussions.

The study confirmed the earlier findings, explaining, "Troops who experienced a traumatic brain injury were twice as likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder."

In a related study on rats, researchers at the University of California studied the brains of rats with a head injury and rats with a healthy brain.

Michael Fanselow, a psychology professor at ULCA, said, "The fear response in rats with traumatic brain injury was much greater than the normal response. A Portion of the brain called Amygdala is affected and it amplifies the response of the brain."

Dr. Baker's recent studies with her colleague Mingxiong Huang suggest that there was too much activity going on in the amygdala and not enough in an area that normally tempers emotional reactions.

The result is a brain that is "like a car with no brake," said Mingxiong Huang.

Although Dr. Baker's research focuses on veterans, its findings can help further establish a link between concussions and PTSD. It will also shed some light on war's invisible wounds. The findings of these studies will also help civilians who have suffered a concussion and may be vulnerable to PTSD.