Size of Brain Region may be Related to Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome

The size of a certain region in the human brain may be a factor in whether you develop post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS) or recover from it, according to an article in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

The hippocampus is an area in the brain associated with memory and the interpretation of environmental context. It may respond to severe stress by becoming smaller.

Dr. Brigitte Apfel and her colleagues studied veterans of the Gulf War who had PTSS and another group that did not. They used magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) to determine the sizes of their hippocampi, and found that those with PTSS who had recovered from the syndrome had similar sizes to those who had never developed it. The ones who did not recover from PTSS had smaller hippocampi.

"These results need to be interpreted with caution because we did not measure brain changes over time," Dr. Apfel said. "If our finding can be confirmed, it might suggest that treatment of PTTS could be viewed as brain restoration rather than primarily a way to ease symptoms."

PTSS is a debilitating condition that can occur after extreme stress, such as experiencing assault, combat or a natural disaster. Symptoms can interfere with a person’s ability to function, and can include nightmares, flashbacks, and problems in anger management and relationships. Left untreated, the problem can persist for years.

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