November 13, 2016
Adolescent Girls Have Greater Chance Than Boys Of Acquiring PTSD Due To Brain Differences

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a condition that doesn't just affect adults, but young people as well, as it could happen to anyone who has suffered through a traumatic event in one way or another. But why does it tend to happen more frequently to young girls, as compared to young boys?

Classically, those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder may be bothered by flashbacks of the traumatic events that triggered their condition. They may choose not to go to certain places or associate with people who remind them of the experience they went through. The condition may also affect a person's ability to concentrate and sleep, and may force sufferers to become more withdrawn and isolated.

While PTSD is commonly associated with military or war veterans and contact sports players, it could also be experienced by younger individuals. The BBC writes that most children who go through trauma can recover without suffering PTSD, but it does strike young people on occasion.

The study analyzed the brains of young patients suffering from PTSD, and found that there were differences in brain features setting male patients apart from females. The differences were found in the insula, a part of the brain that's responsible for processing emotions and empathy and picking up signals and hints from the body. Psych Central quoted the researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine, who said that the insula is responsible for integrating feelings and actions, among other brain functions.

"The insula appears to play a key role in the development of PTSD," said senior author and Stanford psychiatry professor Dr. Victor Carrion. "The difference we saw between the brains of boys and girls who have experienced psychological trauma is important because it may help explain differences in trauma symptoms between sexes."

Earlier studies had suggested that girls who had gone through traumatic stress are likelier to suffer from PTSD than boys who go through similar situations, but none of the studies were able to establish any reason. This was something Dr. Carrion and his co-researchers sought to find out, as they performed MRI scans on 59 children aged nine to 17-years-old.

The children were divided into two groups — one group of 14 girls and 16 boys suffering from trauma symptoms, and a control group consisting of 15 girls and 14 boys who didn't show these symptoms. Five of the children in the "traumatized" group had only one episode, while the other 25 had two or more episodes, or were subject to chronic trauma.

Analyzing the control group, there were no differences in brain structure between the boys and the girls. But in the traumatized group, the researchers saw differences in the anterior circular sulcus in the children's insula. This part of the brain was larger in volume and surface in the traumatized boys, as compared to the boys in the non-traumatized, control group. Likewise, girls in the traumatized group had a smaller volume and surface than those in the control group.

According to lead author Dr. Megan Klabunde, sex differences should be taken into account by people who work with young PTSD sufferers or traumatized children.

"It is important that people who work with traumatized youth consider the sex differences. Our findings suggest it is possible that boys and girls could exhibit different trauma symptoms and that they might benefit from different approaches to treatment."
Dr. Klabunde added that the new study adds to existing research that suggests high stress levels could be a contributing factor in girls going through early puberty.

The researchers wrote that the primary take-home thought in the study is the importance of understanding sex differences in the insula. They believe that their research could allow doctors and scientists to come up with sex-specific tools and treatments for young PTSD and trauma sufferers.

[Featured Image by Chris Hondros/Getty Images]