STRESS
May 13, 2010

Promising New PTSD Treatment

Blocking the nerves of the stellate ganglion, a treatment for chronic pain, provided two veterans with relief from PTSD.

A new case study from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center shows that treating the nerves of the stellate ganglion with an anesthetic may significantly reduce the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to the authors, similar treatments have been used for other chronic conditions, like pain, for many decades, but using the nerve block for PSTD is a relatively new approach.

The authors report that five minutes after the procedure, the first patient said he felt as if '"a cloud had lifted" from his mind.'

The researchers, led by Sean W. Mulvaney, studied two veterans who had suffered from PTSD for a number of years. The symptoms of one patient had begun during his experience in the First Gulf War and those of the second had been triggered in Battle of Fallujah in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Both men suffered serious effects of PTSD and previous treatments for the disorder had not alleviated symptom sufficiently enough so that the men felt they could function normally.

Nerve blocks in the stellate ganglion, a complex of sympathetic nerves in the cervical vertebrae of the neck, were performed in both men. The procedure, known as stellate ganglion block (SGB), is actually less invasive than it sounds, involving local anesthetic to the neck, followed by injection of another type of anesthetic into the nerve ganglion itself.

The authors report that five minutes after the procedure, the first patient said he felt as if "’a cloud had lifted’ from his mind.” He also said, "I haven't felt this good since high school" and that he felt “in control” again. The patient rated his anxiety level as being 2 out of 10 after the procedure, whereas it had been 8 out of 10 prior to it. He also said that for the first time in the 18 years he had suffered from PTSD, he was able to sleep for 6-7 hours at night, with significantly reduced nightmares. Though his symptoms returned somewhat in the following months, a second round of the treatment alleviated his symptoms again – and his overall score for PTSD remained below that which the National Center for PTSD recommends surveillance for, according to the study authors.

The second patient reported similar results, with even better long-term remission. He made such statements as "I feel at peace," "my mind is not racing," and "this is remarkable."

The authors write that one big advantage of the method is that “[u]nlike conventional treatments for PTSD, SGB appeared to have provided results almost immediately.” While the results are very encouraging, the authors do say that more research will be needed to determine how the method will fit in with or complement other current treatments for PTSD.

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