Health Watch: Are Service Members Brains Different?

ORLANDO, Fla. (KFSN) -- There are about 1.3 million active-duty troops and about 18.2 million veterans in the United States. These service people often have to deal with various physical and emotional wounds. A new study shows their brains may also be different.

Research shows 19 percent of veterans may have a traumatic brain injury. And, 20 percent have depression or PTSD.

"It can mean having flashbacks, it can mean having nightmares, and as a result, they can have avoidance, so they avoid anything, any situation, any event that will remind them of that trauma," explained Polina Shats, DO, Psychiatrist.

A new study from the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs found that veterans and active-duty troops with combat related PTSD and mild brain injuries had larger amygdala's than those of people with only mild brain injuries. The amygdala is the area in the brain that processes emotions like fear, anxiety, and aggression. Being able to see the size of the amygdala could lead to a screening tool to identify people at risk, and maybe even new treatments that target the brain.

Shats continued, "There's different medication options. There's different therapy options. It really depends what the main symptom that they're suffering with is."

Experts say treatment approaches include yoga, exercise, and mindfulness. In a University of Michigan study, veterans who practiced mindfulness developed stronger connections between specific brain networks which resulted in an easing of their symptoms.

The researchers did not find statistical differences in other regions of the brain in service members with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.
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