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Brain Imaging Shows PTSD in Kids Linked to Poor Hippocampus Function

December 10, 2009
Written by: , Filed in: Pediatric Radiology
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A new study reveals important clues about why traumatized kids act certain ways and could lead to better treatments. Using functional MRI (fMRI), scientists at Stanford University found that children who show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have poor function of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that stores and retrieves memories. The study is reported online in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

The research team studied a group of 10- to 17-year-olds, 16 of whom showed signs of PTSD and 11 of whom did not. Using fMRI, the scientists did brain scans while giving the kids a simple verbal memory test. Compared to the young people without signs of PTSD, those with PTSD symptoms made more mistakes on the recall part of the test and showed poorer function of the hippocampus. Children with the worst hippocampus function showed “avoidance and numbing” PTSD symptoms, such as withdrawing and having trouble showing emotions or remembering the trauma.

The findings are important for both families and doctors. Understanding such changes in the brain can help parents dealing with traumatized children, especially those who show certain symptoms. And experts may someday use fMRI to identify young people who are high risk for PTSD following major disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

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