Do Hormones Play a Role in PTSD?

PTSD Research on Hormones

People with PTSD tend to have abnormal levels of key hormones involved in the body's response to stress. When people are in danger, they produce high levels of natural opiates, which can temporarily mask pain. Scientists have found that people with PTSD continue to produce those higher levels even after the danger has passed. This may lead to the blunted emotions associated with the condition.
 
Some studies have shown that in people with PTSD, cortisol levels are lower than normal and epinephrine and norepinephrine are higher than normal. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter released during stress, and one of its functions is to activate the hippocampus, the brain structure involved with organizing and storing information for long-term memory.
 
This action of norepinephrine is thought to be one reason why people generally can remember emotionally arousing events better than other situations. Under the extreme stress of trauma, norepinephrine may act longer or more intensely on the hippocampus, leading to the formation of abnormally strong memories that are then experienced as flashbacks or intrusions. Since cortisol normally limits norepinephrine activation, low cortisol levels may represent a significant risk factor for developing PTSD.
 
Research on these neurotransmitter systems (which are involved in memories of emotionally charged events) may lead to the discovery of drugs or psychosocial interventions that, if given early, could block the development of PTSD symptoms.
 
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