Tuesday, March 1, 2011

PTSD: More Than Psychological

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a term we commonly associate with those involved in war-related experiences. However, it can affect people in all sorts of traumatic situations, such as assault, childhood mistreatment, or injuries. A new study suggests that some people may be more prone than others to experience PTSD after a traumatic experience. About 10-20% of people who have experienced trauma develop chronic PTSD as a result, depending on the severity and amount of time the individual was exposed to this event. Now scientists may have a way to determine who is more likely to be permanently affected by these horrific situations.

Scientists selected patients who had been exposed to some sort of trauma in their life and found that people with higher levels of PACAP, a receptor for stress signals, were more likely to have PTSD; however, this correlation was only seen in women. They also found a genetic variant to also correspond with PTSD in these patients, but this was also limited to women. This may suggest why PTSD is seen more commonly in women than in men, but does not draw a definite conclusion.

One of the most interesting findings, however, was the effects of childhood maltreatment in patients, both men and women. It was found that in patients who had suffered childhood maltreatment, genes involved in stress response were methylated or suppressed. This methylation changes the gene expression in these patients, making them less able to effectively deal with stressful situations. This not only shows how trauma in childhood can be devastating, but also suggests why PTSD can permanently affect a person’s life.

While these discoveries are certainly eye-opening, they currently have little effect on the treatment of PTSD. The neurological understanding of PTSD is still very limited, and so the results of this study cannot yet be translated into effective treatments. With further research in both the genetic and neurological fields of this disorder, there seems to be a possible brighter future for those unfortunately exposed to horrific events in their lives.

Posted by Marlena Grasso (2)


  1. Marlena,
    This blog is very eye opening. When I think of post traumatic stress disorder, I mainly think of ex-marines or someone involved in an awful accident of some sort. I didn't know that it could just appear because of something like childhood abuse, but it does make perfect sense.

  2. Response:
    I was surprised by this fact as well. I was also surprised by the connection between this abuse and the liklihood of developing PTSD. I always thought that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but it makes sense that the more you overwork your stress responses, the more strained they become.

    Posted by Marlena Grasso