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About Brain Trauma

Millions of people affected by brain trauma are still waiting for solutions. Learn about traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the current state of research.

What is Brain Trauma?

Brain trauma is an acquired injury to the brain that can be caused by either physical trauma (traumatic brain injury) or a psychological experience (post-traumatic stress).

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a clinically diagnosed condition that that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.1 The associated stress of experiencing or witnessing this trauma can cause physical changes in the brain.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is defined as damage to the brain resulting from external mechanical force, such as rapid acceleration or deceleration, impact, blast waves, or penetration by a projectile.2

For both PTSD and TBI, the trauma can lead to changes in the structure and function of the brain that result in a variety of cognitive, physical, and emotional symptoms. Some of these symptoms may appear immediately after the traumatic event or brain injury, while others may be delayed, emerging months or even years later.

PTSD and TBI often coexist, and many of the symptoms of PTSD and TBI overlap. This can make it difficult to attribute the resulting symptoms to one disorder or the other and also can lead to misdiagnoses and delays in treatment. Both PTSD and TBI can greatly impact a patient’s health in terms of increased risk for other conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and obesity, as well as a number of psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety and substance use disorders.

Brain Trauma and Suicide

Both PTSD and TBI can increase the risk for suicide. Increased suicide risk is of particular concern among Veterans and service members. Studies by the Department of Veterans Affairs find that a history of TBI or PTSD is associated with a substantially increased likelihood of suicide attempts compared to those without the diagnosis — 1.5 and 2.8, respectively. For those with both TBI and PTSD, the likelihood of a suicide attempt is 3.3 times greater than for those with a TBI alone.

Studies among civilians also show a link between suicide and a history of PTSD and/or TBI.

Trauma can happen to anyone.

Up to 22
Up to 22

Tragically up to 22 American Veterans and service members die by suicide daily.

70%
70%

In a global survey, 70% of respondents reported witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event.

5 Seconds
5 Seconds

Every 5 seconds, a man, woman or child in the U.S. suffers a traumatic brain injury.

Millions affected by brain trauma are still waiting for solutions

Despite the frequency of brain trauma, decades of promising research and billions spent on clinical trials:

  • There are no cures for brain trauma.
  • Patients are diagnosed based on subjective, patient-reported symptoms, and not in an objective way based on their unique biology.
  • We lack reliable, evidence-based treatments.

Our mission is to fast-track and advance solutions to diagnose and treat PTSD and TBI. No one who experiences brain trauma should have to suffer the effects for a lifetime.

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Learn More About Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a clinically diagnosed condition that occurs in about 20% of all individuals who experience or witness a traumatic event that involved the actual or possible threat of death, violence or serious injury. Examples of traumatic events include experiencing or witnessing a natural disaster, serious accident, terrorist act, war/combat, or rape or being threatened with death, sexual violence or serious injury. A traumatic event could also be learning about a close friend or family member experiencing a traumatic event. It can also be repeated exposure to the details of traumatic events, such as with first responders.

Following a traumatic event, most people will experience symptoms such as difficult memories, feeling on edge, or trouble sleeping. These short-term symptoms are known as acute stress disorder (ASD) and typically occur within the first month following the trauma. When the symptoms of ASD persist for longer than a month, an individual may have PTSD.

By the numbers

8.6M

8.6 million adults are diagnosed with PTSD in a given year in the United States.
8.6 Million

8.6 million adults are diagnosed with PTSD in a given year in the United States.

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By the numbers

10-20%

Approximately 10-20% (~ 300,000) Veterans who returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from PTSD.
10-20%

Approximately 10-20% (~ 300,000) Veterans who returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from PTSD.

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By the numbers

2x

Women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD.
2 times as likely

Women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD.

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By the numbers

More Likely

People who suffer from PTSD may be more likely to attempt suicide.
PTSD and Suicide

People who suffer from PTSD may be more likely to attempt suicide.

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The symptoms of PTSD can vary in severity and fall into the following four categories:

  1. Intrusive thoughts such as repeated, involuntary memories; distressing dreams; or flashbacks of the traumatic event.
  2. Avoidance of people, places, activities, objects or situations that are reminders of the traumatic event or avoiding remembering, talking or thinking about the traumatic event.
  3. Alterations in cognitions and mood, including being unable to remember important aspects of the traumatic event; negative thoughts and feelings about oneself or others (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted”); feelings of anger, guilt or shame; a loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed; and hifeeling detached or estranged from others.
  4. Changes in arousal and reactivity, including being easily irritated, experiencing angry outbursts; behaving recklessly or in a self-destructive manner; being hypervigilant or easily startled; or difficulties concentrating or sleeping.

Currently, the diagnosis of PTSD is based on structured interviews and questionnaires administered by a clinician and according to the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association. No definitive diagnostic tests have been developed for PTSD.

PTSD is typically treated using psychotherapy or medications. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, includes cognitive therapy, exposure therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Medications such as antidepressants are often prescribed, and anti-anxiety medications or prazosin may also be prescribed.

Although psychotherapy and medication can significantly reduce PTSD symptoms for some people, there is still great room for improvement. Only two drugs — sertraline and paroxetine — have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to specifically treat PTSD. Both of these medications are in a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (or SSRIs) and are also approved to treat depression. These medications do not reduce PTSD symptoms for everyone and only 20 – 30% of patients achieve remission (i.e. they no longer have PTSD). The nonresponse rate for psychotherapy is also high, with many people stopping their therapy early. As a result, treatment resistant PTSD remains a significant problem.

We’re working to address this problem through robust and rigorous research to help better understand the biological underpinnings of PTSD. PTSD is a complex condition with different symptoms in different people. Gaining a better understanding of brain circuits and molecular pathways causing symptoms can enable better diagnoses and more effective treatments that target those circuits or pathways.

Learn More About Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is defined as damage to the brain resulting from external mechanical force, such as rapid acceleration or deceleration, impact, blast waves, or penetration by a projectile.2

TBIs are currently classified as mild, with a brief change in mental status or consciousness (commonly called concussions), moderate, or severe, with an extended period of unconsciousness and an associated higher likelihood of death. This is based on the immediate severity of the injury, not on the symptoms someone may suffer months or even years later.

The vast majority of clinical trials evaluating potential treatments for TBI have have demonstrated limited to no benefit.

By the numbers

2.87M

TBI is a leading cause of death and disability affecting at least 2.87 million Americans each year.
2.87 Million

TBI is a leading cause of death and disability affecting at least 2.87 million Americans each year.

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By the numbers

0

There are no FDA approved treatments for TBI.
0

There are no FDA approved treatments for TBI.

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By the numbers

434k+

More than 434,000 service members experienced TBI from 2000 to 2020.
More than 434,000

More than 434,000 service members experienced TBI from 2000 to 2020.

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By the numbers

434k+

Despite the misconception that a TBI is an event that occurs in isolation, for many individuals, a TBI is a chronic disease, with nearly 5.3 million people in the United States living with a permanent TBI-related disability.
5.3 Million

Despite the misconception that a TBI is an event that occurs in isolation, for many individuals, a TBI is a chronic disease, with nearly 5.3 million people in the United States living with a permanent TBI-related disability.

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Individuals with a TBI can experience a number of physical, cognitive, behavioral, and emotional impairments, including sleep disturbances, headaches, dizziness, sensitivity to light and noise, ringing in their ears, fatigue, depression, anxiety, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, impaired decision making, memory lapses, and personality changes.

A neurological examination to evaluate thinking, motor function (movement), sensory function, coordination, eye movement, and reflexes is usually the first step in diagnosing a potential head injury.

Imaging tests such as an MRI or CT scan may also be performed, but these cannot detect all TBIs. This is of particular concern for those TBIs categorized as mild, with estimates suggesting that 80-90% of all traumatic lesions can be missed, with MRI showing better sensitivity than CT. In recent years, new tools to aid in the diagnosis of mild TBI or concussion have come to the U.S. market, but none of these medical devices is intended to be used alone to diagnose a TBI.

Currently, there are no universally accepted diagnostic standards and further objective diagnostic methods are needed as many TBIs are under-detected and under-treated.

The treatment for TBI is currently based on the severity of the injury and generally involves managing the symptoms of the underlying injury.

For mild TBIs, generally no treatment is administered outside of instructions to rest and monitor for persistent or worsening symptoms.

Moderate to severe TBIs require immediate emergency medical treatment to not only assess the extent of brain injury but also minimize any secondary damage due to inflammation, bleeding or reduced oxygen supply to the brain. This secondary treatment can involve anything from surgery to removing blot clots, repairing skull fractures, and reducing bleeding in the brain to medications for treating symptoms such as seizures. Some patients who experience a moderate to severe TBI will also eventually undergo rehabilitation to relearn basic skills, such as walking or talking.

No therapeutics for TBI have successfully advanced to FDA approval.

Resources and Further Reading

Sources / Citations

1 National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd

2 Maas AI, Stocchetti N, Bullock R (August 2008). “Moderate and severe traumatic brain injury in adults”. The Lancet. Neurology. 7 (8): 728–741. doi:10.1016/S1474-4422(08)70164-9. PMID 18635021. S2CID 14071224.

3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4869975/

4 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2762311