Brain Signals of PTSD

Butt, M., Espinal, E., Aupperie, R., Nikulina, V., & Stewart, J. (2019). The electrical aftermath: Brain signals of posttraumatic stress disorder filtered through a clinical lens. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10

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Article Review By: Kristy S. Colling, Ph.D., and Robert Coben, Ph.D.

Unfortunately, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an all too frequent occurrence. Current estimates are that as many as 6 out of 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their life. Trauma is experienced when someone suffers an intense bout of anxiety as the result of some external event that exceeds the individual’s ability to cope with or defend against. The events may be child abuse (physical, sexual, emotional), child neglect, domestic violence, sexual assault, natural disasters, or war combat. Some of those who experience trauma will go on to develop PTSD, a multifaceted disorder that may include a constellation of the following symptoms: Intrusive thoughts or flashbacks, avoidance or numbing of trauma-related stimuli, hypervigilance, sleep difficulties, negative affect, anhedonia, isolation, aggression, and concentration difficulties. The current thinking is that these symptoms result from dysregulated brain circuitry, specifically involving a disconnect between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, as such, the individual struggles to regulate their emotions and they have less inhibitory control.

Because of its prevalence and intensity of its effect on the daily lives of those who suffer from it, PTSD has been investigated by many researchers interested in studying the brain activity that underlies the disorder, as measured by EEG. One finding is that those who suffer from social isolation and heightened negative affect tend to have frontal asymmetry in their brain activity, with the right side being more active than the left. There also seems to be a correlation between symptom and trauma severity and rightward parietal brain asymmetry (i.e., right parietal is more active than left). Researchers believe that this activity may be related to hypervigilance, the tendency for these patients to have difficulty orienting attention away from distracting stimuli, and differentiating between threatening and non-threatening cues. In addition, the area near the precuneus tends to also be abnormally active and disconnected to frontal regions. This part of the brain is a multifunctional region that, among other things, is associated with relating the self with the external environment. It has also been found that those PTSD patients who suffer from hyperarousal, intrusive thoughts, and dissociation also tend to have auditory working memory deficits.

Every person, their experiences, and their brains are unique. We, at Integrate Brain Health, have helped many people with PTSD learn to train their brains to exhibit activity that is more connected and regulated by tailoring a treatment protocol to their specific needs. Our process includes an EEG-based brain mapping technique, neuropsychological tests, and a symptom assessment. We consider all of these factors before designing a NFB treatment protocol. If you would like to learn more about how we can help you or someone you love who is suffering from PTSD, please contact us.

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