Does PTSD Really Show Up on a Brain Scan? Ariana Grande Shares Her Results
It’s been nearly two years since the Manchester Arena bombing took place in 2017, but Ariana Grande is still feeling the traumatic aftermath of the tragedy. On Thursday, the 25-year-old pop star shared a photo of a couple of brain scans: one comparing a normal brain to a brain experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and another that showed a few shots of her brain. “Hilarious and terrifying...not a joke,” she wrote next to the screenshot shared to her Instagram Story.
Grande’s scan, compared to the normal brain, shows a significant amount of highlighted regions, which she implied showed how serious her PTSD is. While it’s unclear when she had the scan or exactly what kind of test this was, it is possible to see the effects of PTSD on a brain scan.
According to a Journal of Neural Engineering study from 2010, an imaging technique called magnetoencephalography (MEG) can show the discrepancies in a brain with PTSD and one without—but that isn't the only type of imaging that can detect PTSD.
"Imaging studies have shown dysfunction in the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex in the brains of people who have PTSD," Talia Wiesel, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, tells Health. She adds that other scans that show the impact of traumatic stress on the brain can include an MRI, fMRI, positron emission tomography (PET), and single-photon emission tomography (SPECT).
"I can’t determine whether her scan shows PTSD; it’s unclear what kind of scan she received," Wiesel says of Grande's photo. On a brain scan, a person with PTSD may show a smaller hippocampus, increased amygdala function, or increased cortisol levels in response to stress, according to a report from the Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. While it’s unclear if this is what Grande’s scan is showing, we know that it is possible to see changes in the brain as a result of trauma.
This isn’t the first time she has opened up about her trauma. In the July 2018 issue of British Vogue, the “Sweetener” singer spoke about how she handled the trauma following the tragic event.
“It's hard to talk about because so many people have suffered such severe, tremendous loss. But, yeah, it's a real thing,” she said. “I know those families and my fans, and everyone there experienced a tremendous amount of it as well. Time is the biggest thing. I feel like I shouldn't even be talking about my own experience—like I shouldn't even say anything. I don't think I'll ever know how to talk about it and not cry.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people can develop PTSD after experiencing a number of traumatic events such as an assault, natural disaster, or, as in Grande’s case, a terrorist attack. Individuals with PTSD typically experience symptoms that include flashbacks (reliving the trauma through memories), nightmares, and frightening thoughts. They will often avoid situations that might remind them of the trauma, have difficulty sleeping, and can come off as “tense” or “on edge.”