The Neurobiology of PTSD In Adults
Overactive stress hormones can be the root of many of the problematic and abnormal behaviors associated with PTSD. As a combat veteran with PTSD, I can attest to the fact that once anger triggers that release of cortisol (remember from the De Bellis, 2001 study above that there are elevated levels associated with PTSD), it takes an exceedingly long time (sometimes days) to return to a normal level of homeostasis. Often there is a crash after those extreme emotions dissipate as if the body and mind is totally spent. Activities like yoga, meditation, and the non-combative martial arts have been very helpful in soothing and perhaps even restoring my impaired central nervous system to pre-war status.
Brain volume changes are also found in PTSD adults, specifically reduced hippocampal volume (Bremmer et al., 1995). Since the hippocampus is involved in memory, it may play a part in some of the symptoms of the disorder.
Intrusive thoughts and the inability to forget are inherent with PTSD. However, to date, the exact ramifications of this affected area of the brain aren't clear. All this research aside, it's vital to note that everything someone with PTSD can do to rewire their brain positively should be done. There is much plasticity in the brain; it can be changed for the better.
As future studies linking more conclusively the role of altered neuroendocrine system components in all types of PTSD, we get a clearer picture of all that PTSD does to the body and brain. Since studies of combat veterans with PTSD, children, rape victims, and any of the other causes of this trauma-related disorder are inherently different to some extent, a lot of work lies ahead before the researchers are entirely sure about all the multifaceted implications of their findings.
These are incredibly complex systems in our bodies, and there are virtually an infinite number of variables, but we can applaud the good work that has been done thus far. All of it can move us a few steps forward in finding the best best PTSD treatments and medications to alleviate the burdens that many with this life-disrupting disorder carry.
Image courtesy of the author