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PTSD Affects The Brains Of Teen Boys And Girls Differently

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Highly stressful situations affect the brains of young girls and boys in different ways, research from Stanford University School of Medicine suggests.

The insula – the part of the brain associated with emotions and empathy – turned out to be smaller in girls who had suffered trauma, but larger than usual in boys who had similarly disturbing experiences, the BBC reports.

The researchers say this could be the reason why girls are more likely than boys to develop post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Furthermore, the study’s findings theorize that boys and girls could exhibit opposite behaviors after going through a distressing event, so they should be treated in different ways as a result.

The research team found that the insula in girls who develop PTSD may be ageing faster than normal. The insular cortex, which processes feelings such as pain, is a complex system deep within the brain that forms many connections. It is also responsible for reading and interpreting cues from other parts of the body.

To get their results, the researchers scanned the brains of 59 participants between the ages of nine and 17. One group made up of 14 girls and 16 boys had all experienced at least one instance of severe stress or trauma. A second group of 15 girls and 14 boys had not suffered the same.

In the first group, the brains scans showed evidence that the anterior circular sulcus – a part of the insula – had a different size and volume compared to the non-trauma group. The researchers concluded that the change was brought about by exposure to chronic stress, and that the insula plays a pivotal role in PTSD.

Dr. Megan Klabunde, lead author on the study, says it is important to look at all aspects of person’s reaction to trauma, including physical and emotional responses. “It is important that people who work with traumatised youth consider the sex differences,” she says.

Our findings suggest it is possible that boys and girls could exhibit different trauma symptoms and that they might benefit from different approaches to treatment.

Klabunde adds that there have been previous studies “suggesting that high levels of stress could contribute to early puberty in girls.”

The team intends to proceed with more research on the subject, including looking at other parts of the brain linked to the insula to see if they might have undergone similar changes.

The study was published in Depression and Anxiety.

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