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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Has Different Effect On Female Vs. Male Brain

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Study: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Has Different Effect On Female Vs. Male Brain

Researchers have recently discovered that boys and girls are affected by traumatic stress in different ways. This idea was confirmed when they studied the brain structures of male and female patients suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.)

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, post traumatic stress disorder “develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.” Persons with PTSD will re-experience the traumatic event, through nightmares, flashbacks, or intrusive thoughts. During this time they may have physical symptoms, such as a rapid heartbeat or sweating.

They may avoid persons and situations that remind them of the event, and serve as trigger for negative thoughts and emotions. They may be generally fearful or anxious when no danger is present. They are at a heightened risk for substance abuse, depression, and suicide.

Stress and anxiety, for the most part are normal. They are our body’s reactions to negative or potentially harmful people or situations, and different people have different levels of coping mechanisms. It is a manifestation of our “fight or flight” instincts which help keep us alive and out of danger. However, severe anxiety and/or stress is not normal, and may develop in response to a traumatic event.

According to statistics, about 75% of Americans say they experience physical or psychological symptoms related to stress, and over 5 million people in the country are currently living with PTSD.

How Traumatic Stress Affects Affects Females Vs. Males

In a study published in Depression Anxiety this month, Stanford researchers analyzed the differences between the brain structures of men and women suffering from PTSD. They reported that the insula, a region of the brain responsible for emotions and other critical cognitive functions, is remarkably different in female vs. male PTSD patients. The insula is located deep in the cerebral cortex.

Victor Carrion, M.D., study author:

“The difference we saw between the brains of boys and girls who have experienced psychological trauma is important because it may help explain differences in trauma symptoms between sexes.”

As it turned out, male participants with PTSD had larger insulas in both volume and surface than boys who were PTSD-free. Conversely, female participants with PTSD had smaller insulas than their non-PTSD counterparts.

Mega Klabunde, study author, noted that these finding have important implications for treatment:

“Our findings suggest it is possible that boys and girls could exhibit different trauma symptoms and that they might benefit from different approaches to treatment.”

Of note, researchers found no significant differences in the brains of non-PTSD males and females. Therefore, the development of PTSD appears to illicit physical changes in the brain, in the exact opposite manner for the two sexes.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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