For some people living with post traumatic stress disorder, their symptoms can be equal to (if not worse) than those suffering from chronic physical pain. With this in mind, it is not very surprising that an anesthetic procedure used to treat physical pain disorders has been found to be effective in those suffering from chronic PTSD. Despite the technique, known as stellate ganglion block (SGB), being a short term solution, the study found it to be effective long after the authors anticipated.
The study, presented at this year’s annual Anesthesiology meeting, followed 12 veterans with chronic cases of PTSD whom volunteered to undergo the procedure. Injected into the base of the neck via spinal tap, the anesthesia works by blocking certain neurotransmitters associated with pain, typically lasting for three to five hours in cases with chronic physical pain. Each patient was given one shot of SGB, followed up by psychological tests and interviews about their PTSD symptoms for half a year following treatment. The participants reported positive effects on mood within minutes, scoring significantly higher on the CAPS test (clinician administered PTSD score) with over 75 percent of the test group showing a significant reduction in their symptoms of PTSD. Despite everyone in the test group initially scoring as severe on the PTSD test, most of them scored as “mild” or “normal” within one month.
However, as expected, the results were temporary nonetheless, showing a diminishing in effects by six months after the initial SGB shot. However, for a regular duration of three to five days in its normal pain applications, four to five months is a shockingly long time. Although more research is required to ascertain whether there really is a causal relationship here, the benefits could be attributed simply to the placebo effect, something that would not be very shocking considering recent studies that found it to be more effective than actual PTSD medications.
Is SGB just a PTSD placebo?
A recent study conducted by the San Francisco VA Medical Center found that a commonly prescribed medication for PTSD, guanfacine, is less effective than an actual placebo. Published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, not only was the real drug found to be virtually ineffective, but carried adverse effects with it as well.
Norepinephrine is released during hypervigilant states, such as those that lead to the development of PTSD, leading to anxiety and insomnia, being easily startled and more hypervigilance. Guanfacine belongs to a class of medications known as alpha-2 agonists, responsible for lowering the brain’s amount of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter located in the adrenal glands, associated with energy use and the fight-or-flight response. Despite many studies in the past suggesting that alpha-2 agonists are effective, they were all done on their efficacy as anti-anxiety medications, where this one was done specifically on its applications as a PTSD treatment.
The study compared the effects of guanfacine and a placebo on 63 veterans from four VA medical centers in California and Hawaii. Roughly half (29) of the test group were given weekly doses of the drug, revealing a “zero” reduction in symptoms according to the CAPS test. The non-placebo group also experienced considerably more hypersomnia (sleepiness), lightheadedness and dry mouth than the other group. The researchers suggested that a more effective means of reducing PTSD symptoms would be to block the ability of the brain cells to respond to the neurotransmitter, a similar tactic to the aforementioned study involving stellate ganglion (SGB) blockers.
Sovereign Health understands the relative difficulty in treating PTSD in regards to other anxiety-disorders, employing a litany of alternative treatments and therapies that are tailored specifically to each individual situation. If you would like to learn more about PTSD or cutting edge treatments for the disorder, feel free to browse the reviews section of our site or contact us today.
Written by Chase Beckwith, Sovereign Health Group writer