Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) have many overlapping symptoms with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but following a recent study carried out on 20,000 people it’s now possible to tell the two conditions apart by scanning the brain.
Examining the brain
The new study, which was published in PLOS One, discovered a way to differentiate between traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder by using brain scans. Using single-photon emission computer tomography, the scientists scanned the brains of over 20,000 participants, some of which had TBI, some with PTSD, some who had been diagnosed with both conditions, and some who had neither. The scientists also set up control groups containing approximately 100 patients of each type, taking both demographics and co-occurring conditions into account.
Revealing the differences
The study revealed that although both TBI and PTSD sufferers may often present similar symptoms, their brains scans offer a completely different picture, with TBI patients showing decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, temporal lobes and cerebellum, the regions which control mood and behaviour, formation of memories and co-ordinated movement. On the other hand, the patients diagnosed with PTSD showed increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, cerebellum and temporal, occipital and parietal lobes, together with increased activity in the limbic system and basal ganglia. These regions in the brain tend to be associated with processing fear, regulating emotions and sensory processing.
100% accuracy in diagnosis achieved in the control group
As current methods of diagnosis and treatments for TBI and PTSD are based on the symptoms exhibited, this new study offers an effective way to differentiate between these two disorders. Using computer driven analysis techniques¸ the scientists were able to determine who had TBI or PTSD in the control group, 100% of the time; although in the group as a whole, they were only able to achieve 82% accuracy.
It also means that physicians will be able to prescribe more appropriate and effective treatments, particularly as treatments for one condition can potentially be harmful for patients with the other condition. For example, the tranquilizers prescribed for PTSD sufferers to calm an overactive brain, could further subdue the underactive brain of TBI sufferers, while therapies offered to treat TBI could trigger additional brain activity in PTSD patients.
It’s hoped that this study will not only help people with these conditions, but enable physicians to offer more targeted care to people with TBI and PTSD, thus improving the chances of better outcomes for both.