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Monday, December 24, 2007

Some Brain Injuries May Reduce Likelihood of Post-Traumatic Stress

A new study of combat-exposed Vietnam War veterans shows that those with injuries to certain parts of the brain were less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The findings, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Naval Medical Center, suggest that drugs or pacemaker-like devices aimed at dampening activity in these brain regions might be effective treatments for PTSD.

PTSD involves the persistent reliving of a traumatic experience through nightmares and flashbacks that may seem real. Twenty percent to 30 percent of Vietnam vets (more than 1 million) have been diagnosed with PTSD, and a similar rate has been reported among Hurricane Katrina survivors in New Orleans. Public health officials are currently tracking the disorder among soldiers returning from Iraq. Yet, while war and natural disasters tend to call the greatest attention to PTSD, it's estimated that millions of Americans suffer from it as a result of assault, rape, child abuse, car accidents, and other traumatic events.

Previous studies have shown that PTSD is associated with changes in brain activity, but those studies couldn't determine whether the changes were contributing to the disorder or merely occurring because of it.

Jordan Grafman, a senior investigator at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of NIH, turned to the Vietnam Head Injury Study (VHIS) to make that distinction. The VHIS is a registry of Vietnam veterans who sustained penetrating brain injuries (which are less common in Iraq compared to concussion brain injuries). It has received support from the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans of Affairs and NIH, and is currently supported by NINDS.

"If we could show that lesions in a specific brain region eliminated PTSD, we knew we could say that the region is critical to developing the disorder," says Grafman. The results of his study appear online in Nature Neuroscience.

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