Hippocampus Size May Indicate How Well Someone Will Respond To PTSD Treatment

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Post-traumatic stress disorder is an often debilitating disorder that can be incredibly difficult to treat, but a new study published in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging may help identify those who will respond best to treatment. According to the report, individuals with a larger hippocampus are more likely to respond positively to treatment for PTSD.

Hippocampus from GraysThe findings also add support to the theory that the hippocampus plays a significant role in PTSD, potentially indicating how severe a person’s symptoms may be and how effectively they may be treated.

“If replicated, these findings have important implications for screening and treating patients who have been exposed to trauma,” Dr. Yuval Neria, a professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and director of the PTSD Program at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, said in a press release. “For example, new recruits for military service may be scanned before an assignment to determine whether they are capable of dealing with the expected stress and trauma. Having a smaller hippocampus may be a contraindication for prolonged exposure to trauma.”

For the study, a team of researchers recruited 76 participants, of which 40 has been diagnosed with PTSD. The other 36 had been exposed to trauma but showed no signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Both the healthy participants and the 23 individuals with PTSD who responded well to treatment were found to have larger hippocampal volume at the beginning of the study than the 17 patients who did not respond to treatment.

The findings help support past research which has linked small hippocampal volume with higher risk for PTSD and more severe disability from the disorder. However, more research is needed to confirm and understand the link between hippocampal size and PTSD.

“While we only studied response to prolonged exposure therapy, future research may help to determine if PTSD patients with a smaller hippocampus respond better to other treatments such as medication, either alone or in combination with psychotherapy,” said Mikael Rubin, a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin who participated in the study.

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