Refugees with PTSD regulate stress differently

March 15, 2017 by Bengt Arnetz , Sarina Gleason
Bengt Arnetz, a professor of family medicine in the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, has found that refugees diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder regulate stress differently than those who don't have the disorder, but may have experienced similar suffering. Credit: Michigan State University

New Michigan State University research has found that refugees diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder regulate stress differently than those who don't have the disorder, but may have experienced similar suffering.

PTSD is a disorder that makes a person re-experience a traumatic event.

"What we discovered was that a gene associated with a person's mental health became overactive in with PTSD and wasn't able to respond the right way when working with the body's stress defense system," said Bengt Arnetz, a professor of family medicine who led the study.

The methyl CpG binding protein 2 gene, or MECP2, helps control the normal function of nerve cells and plays an important role in mental health and the body's ability to handle stress.

An individual's stress defense system, known as the hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical axis, or HPA, is activated when he or she is exposed to mental pressure or trauma and then calms down when the event is over. In refugees with PTSD, this built-in security system doesn't respond correctly and continues to overreact.

The findings are being presented at the American Psychosomatic Society's annual meeting on March 18.

It's estimated that up to a quarter of the refugees entering the United States have PTSD.

"Often times, those who come to the U.S. in search of a better life have been exposed to severe in one way or another," Arnetz said. "Some of this trauma can include coping with poor environmental conditions for many years and even violent situations as a result of war."

The federally funded study looked at 66 male and female refugees from Syria who had arrived in the United States within a month's time. Each were interviewed and given a validated medical survey to determine if they had PTSD.

The survey, known as the PTSD Checklist-Civilian included questions on socioeconomics, exposure to trauma, as well as symptoms associated with the disorder. Refugees with scores above 30 were classified as having PTSD and were compared to those with lower scores.

Researchers also took blood samples from study participants in order to analyze the MECP2 gene activity.

Arnetz said his findings provide important information that will help advance this type of research and assist individuals who are focused on aiding refugees once they arrive.

"Because refugees have typically experienced terrible environmental factors such as air pollution, as well as severe violence and trauma, it's important to study the impact of these things on the brain and body's physiology in order to optimize the health, well being and social integration of this population," he said.

Explore further: Posttraumatic stress and alcohol use disorders hit American-Indian and Alaskan-Native men the hardest

Related Stories

Posttraumatic stress and alcohol use disorders hit American-Indian and Alaskan-Native men the hardest

January 30, 2017
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after a traumatic event or events. Although it is most often associated with military personnel exposed to the trauma of combat, it can also disproportionately affect vulnerable ...

Parents don't notice children's PTSD, may need support themselves

November 8, 2016
Young children may experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for years without it being recognised by their parents according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Study reveals areas of the brain impacted by PTSD

January 23, 2017
Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and the VA Boston Healthcare System are one step closer to understanding the specific nature of brain changes associated with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Shooting, gang violence exposure leads to PTSD

December 8, 2016
The violence that women in disadvantaged neighborhoods experience and witness can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and full diagnoses, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study that examined a ...

Half of refugees traumatised: German psychotherapists

September 16, 2015
At least half of the refugees who have come to Germany have mental health problems because of trauma suffered in war or during their dangerous escapes, said the chamber of psychotherapists Wednesday.

Study finds American Indian adults exposed to early life trauma more likely to develop PTSD and poor health

December 12, 2016
American Indian adults who were exposed to an early life trauma are more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and poor physical health in adulthood according to a study recently published in the American ...

Recommended for you

Visual clues we use during walking and when we use them

July 25, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers with the University of Texas and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has discovered which phase of visual information processing during human walking is used most to guide the feet accurately. ...

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

Psychopaths are better at learning to lie, say researchers

July 25, 2017
Individuals with high levels of psychopathic traits are better at learning to lie than individuals who show few psychopathic traits, according to a study published in the open access journal Translational Psychiatry. The ...

Higher cognitive abilities linked to greater risk of stereotyping

July 24, 2017
People with higher cognitive abilities are more likely to learn and apply social stereotypes, finds a new study. The results, stemming from a series of experiments, show that those with higher cognitive abilities also more ...

Exposure to violence hinders short-term memory, cognitive control

July 24, 2017
Being exposed to and actively remembering violent episodes—even those that happened up to a decade before—hinders short-term memory and cognitive control, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Researchers pave new path toward preventing obesity

July 24, 2017
People who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues such as divorce, crime or frequent moves face a higher risk of becoming obese as adults, according to a new study by a Florida State University researcher.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.