What is PTSD and how can it change our brain?




By Lisa Smith
NeuLine Health

Many associate post-traumatic stress disorder with combat, but a range of circumstances can lead to the psychological condition that people develop after witnessing a traumatic event or learning of a loved one’s experience.

Feeling on edge, having trouble sleeping or being reluctant to re-engage in everyday life is normal after a traumatic event. Most people start to feel better after a few weeks or months. Often, those with a strong support system can cope with what happened more quickly. 

However, if these feelings last more than a few months, you may have PTSD. For some people, PTSD symptoms may start months or years later, or they may come and go over time.

What can cause PTSD?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, PTSD affects 3.6 percent of the U.S. adult population, which amounts to about 9 million individuals. About 40 percent of those diagnosed with PTSD have severe symptoms. Women are significantly more likely to experience PTSD than men.

Many different circumstances can cause PTSD, including: 

  • An abusive relationship 
  • Being the victim of a crime
  • Car accident 
  • Child abuse and neglect 
  • Combat
  • Injury or life-threatening illness
  • Natural disaster 
  • Physical and sexual assault 
  • School violence 
  • The sudden death of a loved one

How do experts diagnose PTSD?

A health care provider specializing in behavioral health is the best person to diagnose PTSD. A physical exam and mental health screening are part of the diagnosis. 

To  determine if someone has PTSD, all of these symptoms must occur for at least one month, according to the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom – This can be a flashback, nightmares or frightening thoughts.


  • At least one avoidance symptom – Staying away from places, events or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience. Avoiding thoughts or feelings about the traumatic event also falls under this category.


  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms – Startling easily, feeling on edge, sleeping difficulties and having angry outbursts.


  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms – Having trouble remembering key elements of the traumatic event; feeling negative about yourself or the world; feeling guilty or like you’re to blame for the situation; losing interest in activities that used to bring you enjoyment. 

How does PTSD affect your brain?

Psychological distress can alter our normal brain wave patterns. One way to study this is through electroencephalograms or EEGs, which measure electrical signals in the brain.

During the noninvasive test, technicians attach electrodes to the head, temples and forehead. The brain’s electrical signals are strong enough to transmit through the skull and be picked up by an EEG. A neurologist will read the study results and look for patterns or irregularities. 

Researchers have found links to brain wave patterns and PTSD.  The correlations are complex, but researchers hope by studying EEGs and PTSD, they can help diagnose and treat patients more effectively. 

NeuLine Health offers ambulatory EEGs where patients can undergo the test for several days in their own homes. Ambulatory EEGs produce more reflective results mapping someone’s true state of mind because they are in the comfort of their home instead of a clinic. 

PTSD treatment

Psychotherapy or “talk” therapy and medications are the main treatments for people with PTSD.


Psychotherapy relies on a mental health expert to work on coping and healing. It can be in a one-on-one setting,  group therapy – or both. 

These key components are necessary: 

  • Developing skills to manage the symptoms
  • Educating about symptoms
  • Teaching skills to help identify the triggers of symptoms

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT can include:

  • Exposure therapy – Gradually exposes people to the trauma they experienced safely using techniques like imagining, writing or visiting where the event took place.


  • Cognitive restructuring –  The therapist helps people with PTSD look at what happened realistically. Sometimes people remember the event differently than how it happened or feel guilt or shame about something that is not their fault. 


Behavioral health experts may prescribe antidepressants to help control sadness, worry, anger, and feeling numb inside. They can prescribe other medicines to help with sleep problems and nightmares.

For more information about NeuLine Health EEGs, read about us online or call (844) 212-5321. 








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