PTSD is common among civilians who have experienced traumatic brain injury

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In recent years, brain injury research has focused on the relationship between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in military service members who have experienced armed conflict, which is associated both with physical injury and with emotional trauma. The lingering effects of both TBI and PTSD are related to negative outcomes such as cognitive, physical, and psychological deficits, all of which can significantly reduce an individual’s quality of life. However, few studies have investigated the complex relationship between TBI and PTSD in civilian populations.

A recent study in the United Kingdom examined the prevalence of PTSD among 171 civilians who received treatment for TBI over an 18-month period. Researchers administered the PTSD Checklist Civilian Version (PCL-C) to measure the participants’ PTSD severity. Additionally, they used a number of other assessment tools to determine the participants’ injury severity, post-concussive symptoms, and psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression. They found that:

  • About one-fifth of individuals displayed symptoms of PTSD.
  • Depression was significantly correlated with severity of PTSD, potentially because these disorders are known to have similar symptoms.
  • Injury severity as assessed by the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS), a measure of consciousness after TBI, was not associated with PTSD severity.

PTSD is usually the result of an emotionally traumatic experience, such as assault or military conflict. However, PTSD is also common among individuals who have sustained TBI, even when the cause of injury did not feature psychological trauma. To ensure that individuals make a return to full quality of life, clinicians are advised to monitor all patients, both civilian and military, for symptoms of PTSD during the TBI recovery period.

Qureshi KL, Upthegrove R, Toman E, et al. Post-traumatic stress disorder in UK civilians with traumatic brain injury: an observational study of TBI clinic attendees to estimate PTSD prevalence and its relationship with radiological markers of brain injury severity. BMJ Open Access. (January 2019).

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