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Posted Tuesday January, 5th 2021

Trauma, PTSD, and Chronic Low-Grade Inflammation by Melanie Greenberg Ph.D.

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a complex mental health condition that results from exposure to life-threatening or injurious events. The characteristic symptoms of PTSD include intrusive thoughts, feelings, images, or dreams, avoiding feelings or things that remind you of the trauma, anxiety or anger and bodily signs of tension, and changes in thoughts and/or mood. A subset of people with PTSD experience dissociation—a feeling that they are not present, out of their bodies, or that things are not real.

As we learn more about this disorder, we are finding out that people with PTSD or who have a lot of exposure to trauma also have more chronic medical conditions that those of us who haven't experienced traumas. Researchers have proposed that there is a common mechanism linking the physical and psychological components of PTSD — chronic, low-grade inflammation.

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is a normal reaction of your immune system to harmful bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens. Your immune system sends chemical messengers to the site of the infection in order to fend off whatever is attacking you and return your body to health.

However, in the case of trauma or chronic stress, it seems that your body's stress response system gets dysregulated, resulting in inflammation becoming chronic. Chronic inflammation is a risk factor for many diseases, including cardiovascular, pulmonary, dermatological, and autoimmune conditions, as well as chronic pain.

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