Genetics and PTSD

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PTSD is generally considered to be a mental, or emotional, disorder that appears after a person has experienced trauma. Recently, researchers found that there appears to be some genetic influences that play a role in PTSD. This knowledge could lead to new ways to treat the disorder.

PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Mayo Clinic states that PTSD is a mental health disorder that is triggered by a terrifying event. A person can either experience an incredibly traumatic event, or could observe it happening (without being directly involved). Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the traumatic event.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that symptoms of PTSD fall into three categories. “Re-Living” includes flashbacks, nightmares, and extreme emotional and physical reactions to reminders of the traumatic event. Some physical reactions include uncontrollable shaking, chills, heart palpitations, and tension headaches.

“Avoidance” includes staying away from activities or places that are related to the trauma. It also includes avoidance of thoughts or feelings connected to the traumatic event. “Increased Arousal” symptoms can include difficulty sleeping, being easily startled, irrationality, and outbursts of anger.

A team of researchers is developing a blood test that could, someday, be used to determine if a person is genetically predisposed to PTSD. They have found a genetic marker linked to PTSD in blood samples that came from Marines who have been stationed in conflict zones.

Almost anyone can, potentially, develop PTSD. People who are in the military are the group who is the hardest hit by PTSD. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs points out that about 7-8% of the population will have PTSD at some point in their lives. Somewhere between 11-20% of veterans who were involved in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom will have PTSD in a given year. 30% of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.

The researchers found that there is a connection between PTSD and and the genes related to inflammation. One possible explanation is that the inflammatory response is activated by the stress of going to war. Blood from Marines who had been diagnosed with PTSD had biomarkers that were associated with gene networks that regulate immune function.
Twin studies have shown that genetic factors can influence the risk of exposure to some forms of trauma. Many of the same genes that influence how someone reacts to assaultive trauma seem to influence the person’s susceptibility to PTSD symptoms as a result of the trauma.

Image by DVIDSHUB on Flickr.

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