Brain Facts

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Anxiety disorder - Brain Structure Factors

Studies using imaging techniques, particularly magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have helped to identify different areas of the brain associated with anxiety responses.

An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of the brain creates a detailed image of the complex structures in the brain. An MRI can give a three-dimensional depiction of the brain, making location of problems such as tumors or aneurysms more precise.

In particular, research has focused on changes in the amygdala, which is sometimes referred to as the "fear center." This part of the brain regulates fear, memory, and emotion and coordinates these resources with heart rate, blood pressure, and other physical responses to stressful events. Some evidence suggests that the amygdala in people with anxiety disorders is highly sensitive to new or unfamiliar situations and reacts with a high stress response.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is the anxiety disorder most strongly associated with specific brain dysfunction. For example, abnormalities in a specific pathway of nerves have been linked to OCD, attention deficit disorder, and Tourette syndrome. The symptoms of the three disorders are similar and they often occur together.

Several imaging studies have reported less volume in the hippocampus in people with post-traumatic stress disorder. This important region is related to emotion and memory storage.

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