PTSD Brain Damage: An Examination of the Impact on the Brain

PTSD Brain damage

Understanding Risk Factors for PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health disorder that is chronic and caused by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Abuse, sexual abuse, war, an earthquake, or a car accident are examples of traumatic events that might trigger the onset of PTSD. A complex PTSD brain scan can show how the disorder changes the function of the brain and results that can actually be described as PTSD brain damage. 

How Can We Help?

Providing a Compassionate and Safe Environment for Healing.

According to medical research, severe emotional trauma can damage the brain, particularly parts of the brain like the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex. After the damage occurs, patients may think, feel, and behave differently. At Alter Mental Health’s mental health treatment facility in San Diego, we offer high-quality PTSD treatment that is individualized for each patient. Our clinicians are licensed and experienced. Each has the expertise needed to help patients achieve condition management.

Even though a patient may experience PTSD brain damage due to significant trauma, their condition can be treated. PTSD and complex PTSD, a more severe form of PTSD that involves additional symptoms, are treatable. While the disorders are chronic and require ongoing maintenance, patients can successfully reduce their symptoms to manage their condition. Alter’s mental health treatment programs can help patients achieve symptom relief and improved quality of life.

Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD. Risk factors for PTSD exist and appear to include genetic factors. Risk factors for PTSD can also include:

  • Experiencing trauma during childhood
  • Feeling helplessness or significant fear
  • Witnessing a seriously injured or dead person/people
  • Having a history of substance abuse
  • Having a history of mental illness
  • Dealing with combined stress such as trauma and losing a loved one
  • Experiencing dangerous events like war or a natural disaster
  • Witnessing the trauma of a loved one

These risk factors are associated with PTSD and complex PTSD. If a person has experienced any of these risk factors, they may be at increased risk for developing either of these disorders. 

Biological Factors Contributing to PTSD

The biological risk factors of PTSD, including those that may warrant complex PTSD medication treatment, involve changes in the brain’s structure as the result of a traumatic experience or more than one experience of trauma. Researchers believe that there are genetic factors that can leave a person vulnerable to developing PTSD. Biomarkers of PTSD include the structural changes to the brain that are visible in a brain scan. According to medical research, neural mechanisms may be predictive markers of the disorder, explaining why some individuals may be more vulnerable to PTSD than others. Researchers continue to study the subject as they work to unravel the precise mechanisms involved in developing the disorder.

Can Emotional Trauma Lead to Brain Damage?

Emotional trauma can lead to changes in the brain, which could be regarded as ‘damage’ if they change the function of the brain and lead to the development of PTSD, a chronic brain disorder. Many scientists have asked: Can emotional trauma cause brain damage? According to medical definitions of ‘damage,’ the answer must be yes. Just as stress can damage health, trauma can damage the brain, causing permanent changes that underpin disorders like PTSD and complex PTSD.

Trauma has a clear connection to PTSD. A person can develop the disorder after experiencing trauma or witnessing trauma. Trauma may take many forms, including natural disasters like an earthquake. It might be the experience of war or violence. Physical abuse and sexual abuse are also forms of trauma. A substantial traumatic experience can damage the brain of an individual who is vulnerable to the impacts of trauma. 

How Can We Help?

Providing a Compassionate and Safe Environment for Healing.

The Phenomenon of PTSD Brain Fog

The stress involved in the conditions of PTSD and complex PTSD can cause inflammation in the brain, resulting in what’s known as PTSD brain fog. This brain fog can result in feelings of mental fatigue or difficulty maintaining focus or concentration. Brain fog often occurs soon after the traumatic experience or experiences occur and may include symptoms such as:

  • Lack of mental acuity/clarity
  • Having tired eyes
  • Feeling disconnected from the present moment
  • Feeling emotionally on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling like your mind is in a fog or haze
  • Becoming forgetful
  • Struggling to complete tasks
  • Feeling chronic fatigue

PTSD brain fog can accompany PTSD and complex PTSD. When a person develops PTSD, their brain does not function optimally or as it should. The trauma has altered the brain to the extent that it develops symptoms that can be debilitating. Having brain fog can make it difficult to perform work or even many common tasks associated with daily living. 

ptsd symptoms

Long-Term Effects of PTSD on the Brain

The long-term effects of PTSD are chronic. That means when a person develops the condition, they have a condition that is, thus far, not considered curable. However, the disease can be managed successfully as patients learn strategies for managing the symptoms of their altered brain. Learning to manage the long-term effects of PTSD on the brain effectively can result in optimum condition management. 

Medications and therapy can help patients manage their condition and its symptoms in the long term. Triggers may cause symptoms to reappear at times, especially during periods of high stress, but the combination of medication and therapy enables patients to manage symptoms better. In many cases, patients may be able to reduce ‘episodes’ and cope with symptoms in healthier ways. 

Whether you’re dealing with the short or long-term effects of PTSD on the brain, you can rely on Alter Mental Health for our expertise. Our clinicians provide empathetic care to each patient. Our treatment approaches are based on best therapeutic practices and are supported by the medical community. Evidence-based treatments have been rigorously tested and proven effective and safe for treating illnesses like PTSD and complex PTSD. 

Contact Alter Mental Health to schedule a consultation. If you’re contending with any symptoms of a mental health condition, visit us for an evaluation. After making a diagnosis, our clinicians can develop a treatment plan based on your individual needs. 

FAQs About PTSD Brain Damage

How does PTSD affect the brain compared to a normal brain?

Mental trauma can damage the brain, leaving it vulnerable to the development of PTSD. When the condition develops, as shown by a complex PTSD brain scan, the brains of patients with the condition vs those without the condition generally appear different. The changes to structures like the amygdala in the brain can change how the brain functions. In short, it doesn’t function as well as before, and symptoms of the illness develop. These symptoms such as nightmares and mood instability can become debilitating and necessitate medication and therapy. 

What are the risk factors associated with PTSD-related brain damage?

There are risk factors associated with PTSD brain damage. Some point to genetic factors and biological markers that researchers are still attempting to understand. In mental illness, there generally isn’t one marker or gene that is a single risk factor for disease development, but rather several genes and biological markers that leave a person vulnerable to the development of the condition. In addition to genetic factors, other risk factors may include:

  • Trauma during childhood
  • Feeling helplessness or intense fear
  • Witnessing a seriously injured or dead person/people
  • Having a history of substance abuse
  • History of mental illness
  • Dealing with combined stress such as trauma and losing a loved one
  • Experiencing dangerous events like war or a natural disaster
  • Witnessing the trauma of a loved one

These constitute most of the risk factors associated with PTSD and complex PTSD. Symptoms can vary from person to person. Often, symptoms start soon after the traumatic event but can persist indefinitely. Treatment can reduce or eliminate symptoms, allowing patients to manage their condition in the long term.

What are the biological factors that contribute to PTSD?

There are biological factors that can leave someone vulnerable to PTSD given certain environmental factors–the presence of trauma. A person’s genes can ‘dictate’ the structure of the brain and those biological markers that are risk factors for mental illness. It’s important to remember that mental illness is common. One in five people will experience a mental health condition at least once during their lifetime. It might be a bout of anxiety or depression. Or, they might develop PTSD given certain circumstances. 

The biological markers that are associated with PTSD underscore why some people develop the condition after experiencing emotional trauma and others do not. Genetic predisposition is often a hallmark of mental illnesses, but having those biological markers does not mean that a person will definitely develop the disorder. However, in the event of significant trauma, that individual is more vulnerable to PTSD than someone who does not have genetic risk factors

Can emotional trauma lead to brain damage?

According to scientific researchers, emotional trauma can change the brain to the extent that normal function is disturbed. This can be called “brain damage.” Just as physical trauma can cause changes in the brain, emotional trauma can cause permanent changes too. The altered behavior and symptoms that result can lead clinicians to make a diagnosis of PTSD or complex PTSD.

What is “PTSD brain fog” and how does it affect individuals with PTSD?

PTSD brain fog is a symptom of the disorder. When this occurs, individuals feel like their brain is ‘foggy’ and find concentrating difficult. They may feel disconnected from what they’re doing and find it difficult to complete tasks. They report that they are forgetful and feel mentally tired or drained. The disruption to cognitive function caused by PTSD brain fog leaves a person unable to contend with activities and tasks of daily life. People with PTSD brain fog may struggle to focus on their jobs or studies. 

What are the long-term effects of PTSD on the brain?

The long-term effects of PTSD on the brain are permanent. The experience of tremendous trauma has altered the brain and its structure. These changes cause the symptoms of the condition. Fortunately, treatment and therapy can help patients experience symptom relief. They can learn to manage their symptoms better. By identifying triggers, they can develop strategies to cope with them healthily, allowing them to manage their PTSD successfully. Effects such as changes to brain structure may be permanent, but effective condition management means that patients can cope with those changes and the symptoms they may cause. 

Are there specific areas of the brain that are affected by PTSD?

The parts of the brain that PTSD most frequently alters are the amygdala, frontal cortex, and hippocampus. These changes can lead to the symptoms of PTSD like reliving the past trauma over and over again, nightmares, and angry outbursts. Feelings of anxiety and depression can also occur as a result of altered brain structures.

Can the brain damage caused by PTSD be reversed or mitigated?

Today, clinicians have many treatment options that can mitigate PTSD. The condition is currently regarded as chronic, but some of the damage caused by emotional trauma may certainly be mitigated, resulting in improved brain function and fewer symptoms. The potential for healing and recovery exists. With treatment, patients can see improvement in their symptoms and brain functioning.

In complex PTSD, symptoms may be more persistent and severe, but in these cases too, healing can occur. Newer treatments like rapid eye movement desensitization and reprocessing can change where the memory is stored in the brain, improving the condition. Evidence-based therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy can also support the healing process, allowing patients to more easily identify their triggers and develop improved coping skills for managing both triggers and symptoms. There is hope for patients with PTSD and complex PTSD. Although these conditions may involve debilitating symptoms, they can be managed, allowing for improved quality of life. Call Alter Mental Health to learn more about our treatments and facility.

How Can We Help?

Providing a Compassionate and Safe Environment for Healing.