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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in patients with traumatic brain injury

Judith Glaesser1*, Frank Neuner12, Ralph Lütgehetmann3, Roger Schmidt3 and Thomas Elbert12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, 78457 Konstanz, Germany

2 vivo, Cupramontana, Italy

3 Kliniken Schmieder, Eichhornstraße 68, 78464 Konstanz, Germany

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BMC Psychiatry 2004, 4:5  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-4-5

Published: 9 March 2004

Abstract

Background

Severe traumatic stressors such as war, rape, or life-threatening accidents can result in a debilitating psychopathological development conceptualised as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Pathological memory formation during an alarm response may set the precondition for PTSD to occur. If true, a lack of memory formation by extended unconsciousness in the course of the traumatic experience should preclude PTSD.

Methods

46 patients from a neurological rehabilitation clinic were examined by means of questionnaires and structured clinical interviews. All patients had suffered a TBI due to an accident, but varied with respect to falling unconscious during the traumatic event.

Results

27% of the sub-sample who were not unconscious for an extended period but only 3% (1 of 31 patients) who were unconscious for more than 12 hours as a result of the accident were diagnosed as having current PTSD (P < .02). Furthermore, intrusive memories proved to be far more frequent in patients who had not been unconscious. This was also the case for other re-experiencing symptoms and for psychological distress and physiological reactivity to reminders of the traumatic event.

Conclusion

TBI and PTSD are not mutually exclusive. However, victims of accidents are unlikely to develop a PTSD if the impact to the head had resulted in an extended period of unconsciousness.