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Earthquake affects survivors’ brain function significantly

14 September, 2009

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The Sichuan earthquake in May 2008 had an acute impact on the brain function of physically healthy survivors and poses a risk to their mental health, new research shows.Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry wanted to gain a better understanding of how functional brain systems adapt to severe emotional stress. The study, which was carried out with collaboration from universities in China, the US and Liverpool was recently published in PNSA online.

The study showed that “a significant proportion of the survivors, around 20 per cent, are likely to develop stress-related disorders like acute stress disorder (ASD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)”, King’s College writes on EurekAlert.

Dr Andrea Mechelli from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London and one of the authors of the study comments: “Given the serious and persistent impact of these highly prevalent psychiatric disorders, it is vital to develop a better understanding of the alterations of cerebral function evident in the early stages of adaptation to trauma. Such knowledge may lead to a better understanding of posttraumatic responses and the development of more effective early interventions.”

The researchers examined 44 healthy survivors and 32 controls 13 days after after the massive psychological trauma. They found that significant alterations in brain function similar to those observed in post-traumatic stress disorders, can be seen shortly after major traumatic experiences, highlighting the need for early evaluation and intervention for the survivors.

Dr. Mechelli continues: “A better understanding of the impact of traumatic events on brain function may help us identify those in need of early treatment and reduce the long-term psychological impact in trauma survivors of national disasters, military conflict, and other causes of severe emotional distress.”