Potential Breakthrough Discovery in PTSD Research: What if the Trauma is Physical?

How well does the medical community actually understand post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? They know the symptoms, which include reliving memories of a traumatic event, avoidance of triggers, negative chances in feeling or beliefs, and hyperarousal. Do doctors know what causes PTSD? Is it purely a psychological problem? Or is it, as a recently published study suggests, sometimes the result of physical trauma?

Post traumatic stress disorder started as “shell shock,” the unexplainable problem following soldiers home from World War I.  Then, it became “combat fatigue,” another label for the mystery symptoms. Over time, as understanding of the issues evolved, the diagnosis became post-traumatic stress disorder, but much about the condition remained undiscovered.

Now, neuropathologist Daniel Perl and his team believe they might have found a key to unlocking the secrets of PTSD. Perl found a pattern of damage in the brains of eight military personnel, caused by exposure to blast force. The damage differs from that found in football players or boxers who have suffered blunt-force traumatic brain injuries. Perl believes this discovery could explain nearly a century of war-related problems long thought to be purely psychological. In short, his findings raise the question: What if what doctors have been calling PTSD consists of two distinct injuries, one physical and the other psychological?

This finding could explain why post-traumatic stress disorder remains notoriously difficult to treat, if doctors are pursuing the psychological symptoms instead of the physical. As Perl states, “There’s nothing obvious in terms of treatment, but at least it suggests that one should not think of the problem as a purely mental health problem.” Identifying the correct source of the problem could open up new treatment options for research.

While this discovery has yet to be explored in depth, any advance in how the medical community treats PTSD represents a welcome ray of hope for those suffering with the condition. Even in these early stages of research, veterans might be able to better identify the source of their problems. Perhaps, those who were once reluctant to seek treatment for a psychological problem would be more willing to admit they have a physical condition and reach out where they would have once remained silent.