Can PTSD Cause A Traumatic Brain Injury?

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as defined by the Mayo Clinic “is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event—either experiencing it or witnessing it.” PTSD is recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a diagnosable mental health condition and is listed under the new category called Trauma- and Stressor- Related Disorders. PTSD can occur when an individual has experienced severe stress or anxiety after being exposed to a traumatic event. Studies have found that individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI) typically meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. PTSD is a mental disorder, but the associated stress can cause physical damage. TBI is a neurological disorder caused by trauma to the brain. 

Traumatic Brain Injury

It is rather unlikely for PTSD to cause a TBI, but it is not uncommon for a TBI to cause PTSD, depending on the circumstances. Traumatic brain injury occurs because of sudden damage to the brain. The American Association of Neurological Surgery explains that TBI “is a disruption in the normal functioning of the brain that can be caused by a blow, bump or jolt to the head, the head suddenly and violently hitting an object or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue.” Sustaining a TBI could lead to a plethora of adverse physiological symptoms as it can affect one’s physical, neurological, and/ or emotional functioning. According to the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, “the events leading to a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are often psychologically traumatic (e.g., motor vehicle accidents) or occur within a broader context of psychological trauma, such as military combat or recurrent interpersonal violence.” Although each diagnosis has distinguishing characteristics, there is a great number of overlapping symptoms and indisputable interplay among the symptoms. For example, changes in cognition (e.g., memory and concentration, depression, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, etc.) are common with both diagnoses. Hence, when PTSD and TBI coexist, it can be difficult to properly assign presenting symptoms to its respective diagnosis. 

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