Anyone who has experienced trauma, such as war veterans, may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which includes flashbacks, nightmares, and stress. PTSD has always been considered a psychological problem. But now researchers can analyze your trauma objectively using brain scans.
A new study published today in the Journal of Neural Engineering suggests that there may be distinct biomarkers of PTSD in the brain, which can be analyzed for severity. Neuroscientists have demonstrated before that trauma and other psychological disorders change the structure of neural networks in the brain. But this study is further confirmation that something as subjective as "trauma" can be measured objectively with brain scans.
According to a release about the study:
A group of 74 United States veterans were involved in the study, which for the first time objectively diagnoses PTSD using magnetoencephalography (MEG), a non-invasive measurement of magnetic fields in the brain. It's something conventional brain scans such as an X-ray, CT, or MRI have failed to do . . . With more than 90 percent accuracy, researchers were able to differentiate PTSD patients from healthy control subjects (250 people with clean mental health) using the MEG. All behavior and cognition in the brain involves networks of nerves continuously interacting – these interactions occur on a millisecond by millisecond basis. The MEG has 248 sensors that record the interactions in the brain on a millisecond by millisecond basis, much faster than current methods of evaluation such as the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which takes seconds to record. The measurements recorded by the MEG represent the workings of tens of thousands of brain cells. This recording method allowed researchers to locate unique biomarkers in the brains of patients exhibiting PTSD.
What worries me about studies like these is that at some point they'll be used to determine whether people have suffered enough trauma to get psychological help, to return home from war, or to be removed from abusive situations. What if somebody is suffering acute trauma, but they're part of that 10 percent that fall outside the range of the MEG scan's accuracy? Will insurance companies refuse to cover their therapy? Will they be denied help entirely?