PTSD changes the structure of emotion centres in the brain

According to new research conducted at Duke University and the Durham VA Medical Centre, the amygdala, a small structure in the brain that regulates fear and anxiety responses, is significantly smaller in individuals diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder marked by flashbacks, nightmares and abnormal emotional behaviour as a result of witnessing or being involved in a traumatic event.

Many service men and women returning from the front line have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a result it has been the source of extensive research conducted by pharmaceutical companies looking to develop appropriate medication treatments and by psychologist and neuroscientist trying to find the best ways of treating the psychological impact of traumatic events.

This latest study 200 combat veterans all of whom had been exposed to particularly traumatic events while serving on the front line in either the war in Iraq and Afghanistan after September 11th 2001. Half of the participants recruited met the diagnosis for PTSD while the others did not.

All 200 participants had their brain’s scans to establish the sizes of both the amygdala which is the area of the brain that controls the fight of flight response and the hippocampus which is responsible for the consolidation of memories with an emotional context.

It was reported that the volume of the amygdala and hippocampus was significantly smaller in the individuals diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However further research needs to be conducted in order to establish if the physiological differences was caused by a traumatic event, or whether PTSD is more likely to arise in individuals who naturally have smaller amygdala.

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