People who experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI) often will have also experienced a traumatic event. Some people who experience a traumatic event will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The combination of PTSD and TBI is a most frequently found in returning military soldiers, but it is also a common occurrence in civilians. Unfortunately, the presentation of PTSD can be very similar to TBI, especially mild TBI. This can cause issues in both research and medicine, where it can be difficult to discern the origin of symptoms or effects.
One symptom that is common between both PTSD and mild TBI is mental inflexibility—an inability to switch between concepts. A recent research review found that, although the clinical presentation of mental inflexibility is the same for both PTSD and mild TBI, there are differences in the parts of the brain affected. Using magnetoencephalography, an imaging technology that has very high resolution, various studies have found that mental inflexibility in PTSD is related to abnormal activity in the paralimbic system (obstructing normal thinking processes), and that mental inflexibility in mild TBI is related to abnormal frontal lobe activity (creating disorganized thinking).
Identifying specific brain areas involved in a symptom can help target rehabilitation. Although people with PTSD and mild TBI may present very similarly, studies that show differences in the brain structure involved may help target both diagnosis and treatment.