Understanding PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury

Posted on May 30, 2022

As he stood tall behind the glass barrier, he quickly glimpsed at her health chart; a sudden huff of frustration and a gasped look across his face. She was in the middle of a tilt table test for syncope indications when her doctor said, “I see you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD.”

He forcefully closed her chart, tossing it aside as if to send a clear dismissal message. She could sense that her appointment for the tilt table test now had no value or role towards ailments associated with her undiagnosed traumatic brain injury. In advocacy for herself, she said, ” Yes, but that is not why I am here. I had a head injury in a car wreck and have multiple symptoms I have never experienced in my life.” 

The patient’s neurologist had plausibly referred her to a specialist on suspicion of syncope after hearing her extensive list of post-concussion symptoms and evaluating three inconsistent electroencephalograms (EEG).

Before their traumatic brain injury, some patients may have a prior health history such as depression, anxiety, or trauma, even if it was years ago. After their concussion, a worsened re-occurrence of earlier health conditions may appear along with the possibility of PTSD, which is a common overlapping condition among brain injury survivors. 

Patients can end up in the hands of healthcare professionals, potentially pointing to their health history instead of their recent brain injury as the culprit for their troubles.

Traumatic brain injuries commonly overlap with an umbrella diagnosis of post-concussion syndrome, vagus nerve damage, neuroendocrine dysfunction, underlying vision injuries, PTSD and sensory integration problems. These are among a few other co-existing disorders, all sharing analogous symptoms. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder affects millions of people globally and is associated with various types of injury and trauma. A false diagnosis of PTSD can occur when brain injury-related conditions point to the perfect storm, an extensive range of autonomic nervous system effects from a TBI.

Envision sorting through an intricate electrical system filled with malfunctioning wires generating sparks, small fires, shortages, and blocked pathways. Even the best electrician may feel dazed in their quest to restore the system. 

They must first identify the importance of informing the customer (patient) that it will take multiple visits and referrals to advanced specialists to understand (diagnose) the problem’s root cause before transforming the entire system. 

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. The electrical system will not improve if we dump water on the fires or tape the damaged wires.

Brain Injury Self Advocacy

Sadly, identifying the variance between actual PTSD and the complexity of multiple traumatic brain injury health conditions is still lacking in much of our healthcare system. The mental health stigma surrounding PTSD can cloud even the best medical professionals’ pathways. 

Categorizing, misdiagnosing, or judging patients with mild to moderate brain injury leaves them feeling dismissed, unheard, and disregarded.

Every year, countless TBI survivors worldwide can face problems finding suitable help after their injury. Patients venturing through large portions of an ignorant healthcare system are at risk for deteriorated stress and rising health troubles. Postponements in diagnosis and effective treatment plans can delay their opportunity for a successful long-term recovery.

Despite many medical advancements for traumatic brain injuries, recovery possibilities are still through patient self-education, advocacy, and reaching out to forward-thinking physicians who are paving the way towards understanding the whole-body effect after a traumatic brain injury.