While It has been recognized for many years that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) may produce similar symptoms, such as problems with concentration, memory, sleep, and mood, the medical profession has viewed them as two distinct conditions, one with an emotional cause and the other with a physical cause.
An article in Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports states that “increasingly symptoms previously presumed to be specific to PTSD or TBI are being identified in both disorders.” These include symptoms more commonly associated with TBI, such as headache, dizziness, vision, and balance problems. Evidence also suggests that patients with a history of TBI are more likely to meet criteria for PTSD than others with injuries of similar intensity. Also, patients who are diagnosed with PTSD are significantly more likely to report persistent cognitive or sensory problems after a TBI.
Thus, the conclusion of the study states that TBI and PTSD may not be separable – “PTSD and TBI may be intimately related not just at the level of symptoms and etiology, but also at the level of pathophysiology.”
Also, the researchers note that newly found evidence indicates that there are changes that occur after both physical brain injury and traumatic stress. These changes may occur in the immune, endocrine, and the neuromodulatory neurotransmitter systems, which are the three interacting systems that coordinate the body’s response to the experience or expectation of major injury.
The immune system is activated when the body perceives a serious threat, or there is acute tissue damage. The neuroendocrine system may be physically damaged as the result of a TBI since it helps regulate the human body’s response to stress. The neuromodulatory neurotransmitter system helps regulate physiological functions such as heartbeat and breathing rate.
Some observed changes include a complex neuroinflammatory response in the immune system, which has been found in both TBI and PTSD. Acute and persistent changes in neuroendocrine function have been found in both patients with psychiatric diagnoses, such as PTSD, and patients with a history of TBI. Changes in Neuromodulatory neurotransmitter system have also been observed after the occurrence of both PTSD and TBI.
The recognition that TBI and PTSD may not be separable has serious implications for clinical care in the future. This information demonstrates the complexity of the brain and its interaction with bodily systems while presenting the opportunity to explore a wider range of treatment options. The complexity of the changes in the systems involved, along with evidence that these changes may evolve over time, emphasize the need to consider the same intervention, particularly a pharmacotherapy, for patients who suffer from either condition.
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