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Research reveals how traumatic experiences affect brain
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Research reveals how traumatic experiences affect brain

The findings of a recent study can empower neuroscientists attain a wider understanding of the activities happening within the brain when a person relives a traumatic experience. The study is important because of the fact that “extinction learning,” common in exposure therapy meant for treating patients suffering from any trauma or related disorders, does not erase the event completely from the brain. Certain stressors or painful stimuli are enough to bring back the memory.

Work done earlier on people with lesions in the hippocampus region indicated how this part of the brain was responsible for context forming. As part of the study, a mix of experiments were performed on rats and mice to examine the neurological changes in response to learned and unlearned fears. They contradicted previously held assumptions that trauma treatment therapy failed because the brain pathways stopped working. Instead, the new study revealed that posttraumatic fears resurfaced in the brain because new pathways were built between the hippocampus and infralimbic cortex. The researchers said, “Taken together, our results reveal a previously unknown hippocampal-prefrontal circuit for the context-dependent regulation of memory retrieval.”

Though it is still early in the day, it is expected that the latest study will help the therapists target only certain nerve pathways linked with extinction learning. This will, thus, prevent relapses related to trauma disorder like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by switching off all the traumatic flashbacks.

Women more sensitive to stimuli reminding of past trauma

The way men and women react to a reminder of past traumatic incidents is quite different. Though both undergo intense suffering, women are more likely to isolate and alienate themselves, and go through long periods of stress whereas, men are more likely to turn hostile or resort to violence.

In either case, the victim experiences flashbacks, which takes them back to the time when they were being attacked. A women who survived a sexual assault might feel as if the incident was happening again and could react in the similar manner. When the flashback happens which could be at work, or with colleagues in a pub, the individual could sense that he/she is no longer with his/her group and is in a different time and place altogether. While cognitive and behavioral therapies could help one understand the way the brain functions, it is also essential to recognize the triggers in time.

Untreated PTSD can hinder cognitive development and come in the way of personal and professional growth, along with causing a number of physiological problems like sinus, migraine, gastro-intestinal problems, and impaired relationship with one’s partner. Prior research also confirmed that patients of PTSD have physical problems like a large amygdala, a region associated with decision-making and memory processing.

Seeking help is important

Research shows that women are more sensitive to their environment and the triggers related to a traumatic experience, but they are less likely to seek help. Future research might help in devising ways to remove the memory of the traumatic event forever, but for now, ignoring mental health can be detrimental to life. It is necessary to reach out to an experienced health care provider who can be the best guide.

Though women are known to respond better to treatment for PTSD compared to men, they are generally reluctant to seek help. A leading behavioral health treatment provider, Sovereign Health provides unique women’s trauma recovery program in a safe and supportive environment. For more information on our holistic trauma treatment for women programs, call our 24/7 helpline number or chat online with a representative.

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