Back to Blog List

Can a Brain Injury Cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

June 5, 2017

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are often linked. Often the two conditions are sustained in the same event, and can share many symptoms that may leave victims wondering if the two are related. Can a brain injury cause PTSD? In short—no.

Brain injuries are physical traumas that occur when a person experiences a blow to the head, a whiplash injury, or oxygen deprivation. TBIs are neurological disorders that have a physical cause, and can affect functioning such as memory, speech, motor abilities, and senses. PTSD is a psychological disorder, and increases the risk of depression, physical injury, and substance abuse. The stress associated with PTSD can cause physical damage, though.

Despite having different causes, TBIs and PTSD can look remarkably similar. Both have social consequences and can cause mood swings, interrupted sleep, and other physical symptoms. The symptoms manifest because of different reasons, which is why it is important to make a correct diagnosis and treat the true cause of the symptoms.

Emotional Changes

Many people who suffer from a TBI and people who suffer from PTSD experience emotional changes. In TBI patients, these injuries often stem from damage to the emotional centers of the brain. Damage to these parts of the brain can cause emotions to vary wildly and change quickly. Damage to the frontal lobes of the brain may also cause an individual to lack inhibition, and often express anger. For PTSD sufferers, the changes in mood are related to the trauma the person has experienced. Emotional changes in PTSD patients often involve becoming more withdrawn, emotionally dulled, panicked or anxious, and depressed. PTSD can also increase the likelihood of physical aggression occurring when the patient is angered.

Depression can affect every aspect of life, which makes it a serious threat to the daily functioning of people with TBIs and PTSD. It is not uncommon for either condition to cause depression. People with brain injuries are more likely than uninjured people to experience depression. Individuals with PTSD commonly experience depression related to their trauma, though it is often treatable with medication and therapy.

Anxiety is also a common symptom of both PTSD and TBI. It often manifests differently between the two conditions, however. People with PTSD often experience hypervigilance, jumpiness, panic, and/or stress. It may be triggered by a specific event, or arise on its own. For TBI sufferers, anxiety may cause them to feel stuck or unable to motivate themselves to act. They may appear to be lazy or to not care, and often struggle with initiating activities.


Sleep patterns are affected for both conditions as well. PTSD sufferers often have a hard time sleeping due to stress, hypervigilance, nightmares, and flashbacks. They may delay or avoid sleeping, or they may wake often or experience less deep sleep. TBI patients often experience disruption in their sleep patterns as well. It can be difficult for them to fall asleep, stay asleep, or sleep long enough. Rest is critical when recovering from a TBI, which makes it more difficult when receiving adequate sleep isn’t possible.

Social Changes

Both PTSD and TBI patients can also experience a number of social changes. Their social circles may shrink as the number of people they interact with dwindles. TBI patients may exhibit erratic behavior or mood swings that can make it difficult to interact. People with PTSD may feel too anxious to interact with others or attend social gatherings, or they may avoid leaving the house entirely. This social isolation can have negative effects for people with either condition, and can leave them feeling depressed or anxious.

Substance Abuse

With brain damage, substances such as alcohol, prescription medication, and other drugs can have a different effect. TBI patients may be more affected by alcohol or other substances after their injury. They may also be at increased risk of seizures, negative interaction with medication, or another brain injury. It isn’t uncommon for PTSD patients to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, but this can be dangerous. Using substances to ease the pain and stress of PTSD can also affect memory, thinking, and behavior.


While the stress of PTSD can cause physical damage to the body and brain, TBIs cannot cause PTSD. It is possible that in individual who has sustained a TBI also experienced PTSD after the incident that caused the injury. The relationship between the two conditions can be close, but a TBI does not cause PTSD. Patients with either should be tested for the other to ensure all symptoms are treated correctly.

If you have suffered a traumatic brain injury, you deserve compensation. Our Denver personal injury attorneys understand the difficulties you are facing, and have the experience you need to help your case. Contact Jordan Law to learn how we can help you or to schedule a free consultation.

Related Blog Stories