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What Is the Connection between TBI and PTSD?

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  • Written By: Jillian O Keeffe
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 03 September 2016
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Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are both conditions that can potentially affect the behavior and emotional state of an affected person. While TBI describes physical injury to the brain, PTSD generally describes emotional problems following a trauma. PTSD is typically diagnosed through psychiatric testing, but as the typical symptoms of the condition can also be caused by TBI, the boundaries between the two conditions is, as of 2011, unclear. TBI and PTSD often occur together, if a person who suffers a physical injury to the brain experiences traumatic feelings at the same time, such as in a car crash or a military engagement.

The brain is the seat of decision-making and emotions, as well as the controlling center for physical functions and movement. When a person suffers a traumatic brain injury, therefore, he or she may experience a change in the way the brain works. Examples of the possible issues that can arise from a TBI include problems concentrating, alterations in behavior and abnormal emotions. These symptoms are similar to the symptoms of PTSD, which does not arise from physical injury to the brain, but rather trauma to the person's mental state.

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PTSD is a condition that can occur after a person experiences a traumatic event. Examples of trauma might include survival of a disaster such as a plane crash, living through a stressful military engagement, or experiencing a personal assault. The stress of the incident can cause the person to suffer symptoms like flashbacks to the event, depression and a withdrawal from normal society. Increased irritability, decreased sensitivity to joy, and abnormal levels of fear are also indicative of PTSD.

Confusion can arise in diagnosis of TBI and PTSD if the symptoms experienced by the patient could potentially be caused by either condition. In addition, a physical trauma to the brain often happens in conjunction with a traumatic event, such as a car crash, an assault or injury in battle. The clinical interpretation of emotional symptoms may be that the brain injury causes the problems, whereas the psychiatric viewpoint may ascribe the blame to the presence of PTSD along with the brain injury.

Treatment options for TBI and PTSD differ, so ascribing behavioral and emotional symptoms to the correct cause is important for recovery. Research into the presence of the two conditions together appears to indicate that TBI and PTSD are less likely to exist if the person with the injury was unconscious during the event, or if the physical injury caused amnesia. For example, a person who crashed his or her car and woke from unconsciousness seems to be less likely to suffer PTSD than a person who remained awake, albeit injured, through the ordeal.

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