Can PTSD be passed onto my children?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric ailment that affects many people around the world. This stress disorder can affect anyone and it is typically caused by uncontrollable or unpredictable traumatic events. In most cases, PTSD symptoms appear after several days or hours of certain event. However, there are times that it takes up to few months or weeks for the symptoms to manifest themselves. Common PTSD’s causes may be because of sudden death of loved ones, assault, car or plane crashes, rape, war, natural disasters, kidnap, childhood neglect, physical abuse and other traumatic events.
But can we tell just by taking a simple blood test if we are predisposed genetically to PTSD? This question has been the biggest issue internationally. International researchers have found a genetic marker that is linked to PSTD in the blood samples of the conflict zone based Marines. This team of researchers is studying to figure out who is more resilient to PTSD, and who is more at risk for PTSD.
Women are more likely to develop this stress disorder than men. Signs tend to cluster into three main areas. One is when a person relives the event through vivid images and nightmares together with an extreme reaction like heart palpitations, uncontrollable shaking and chills. Avoiding being reminded of the event, including becoming detached from friends and becoming emotionally withdrawn, is another sign of PTSD. The last main signs of this disorder are when a person is hyper aroused, irritable, startled easily, and/or has difficulty concentrating and trouble sleeping.
The idea that your genes play a role in whether you develop this stress disorder has been a famous focus of frequent research. Scientists have actually discovered, in mice, the genes that regulate fear. The lack of a brain chemical that is regulating the fear (which is called peptide that releases gastrin), led to fear response that is greater among rodents. In another study, mice that do not have a protein that is necessary to form the so called “fear memories”, have less tendency of freezing up and willing to explore unfamiliar spaces (think of the cartoon Tom and Jerry, and how Jerry (the mouse) wasn’t afraid of Tom the cat. This could have, realistically, been because Jerry lacked a certain protein in his brain that would’ve told him to be afraid of Tom). This is important to note because many people believe that PTSD is an unnatural response, but PTSD can often be a natural response to a somewhat unnatural situation. The brain is almost wired to respond in such a way.
There are also studies on twins which show that heredity is accounting for about 30 percent of the differences responding to trauma. Identical twins are much more likely to develop this stress disorder than the fraternal twins. Another research has looked into the role of inherited mental disorders, brain differences or tendencies of addiction.
An unusual research avenue is the contribution of our immune systems to the development of the symptoms of PTSD or if it has also a big role in this development. Prior studies showed that people who have been diagnosed with PTSD as compared to individuals without PTSD suggest that their differences in their genes in relation to inflammation, plays a role.
Therefore, there is a tendency that PTSD can be acquired genetically, however, there is no positive result as researchers are still going on progress of having some clues as to what may predict resilience and risk.
One thing to keep in mind about PTSD, is that even though it may or may not be genetic, a father or mother can still pass on PTSD to their children, and loved ones, through proximity. It’s been said that a single person with PTSD infects/affects/effects up to seven individuals with symptoms. Think of it as the flu. A father gets sick with the flu: he’s lethargic, has a fever, diarrhea, and he’s nauseous. Several days pass and the father’s son gets sick. The son has all the same symptoms as his father, he’s lethargic, nauseous, has diarrhea, etc. Then, the next thing you know, the sister gets sick, the mother, and the whole house is laid up in bed. Now, take that same scenario and imagine a man with PTSD. He’s irritable, short-tempered, has trouble sleeping, is anxious, and is emotionally withdrawn. How long do you think it’ll be before his short-temper and irritability is passed along to his wife and children?
In a sense, it’s the old nature vs nurture debate. Are we predisposed to PTSD or brought up into it?
Picture: Flickr/Ilona Meagher