Can PTSD Be Prevented?

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a potential after effect for anyone experiencing a traumatic, stressful event. Military combat is the classic example, but the condition is by no means limited to soldiers in conflict areas. Sexual assault, childhood neglect, and natural disasters are all traumatic events capable of triggering PTSD. Symptoms may begin immediately or take weeks or months to develop. PTSD is a chronic mental health condition that has proven resistant to typical treatment approaches, particularly antidepressant medications. Substance abuse problems, often starting with an urge to self-medicate, complicate the treatment plan for those with PTSD. Psychological interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, are generally the most successful approaches.

An Israeli study is adopting a new strategy for dealing with posttraumatic stress disorder. Rather than treat the condition after it manifests, researchers with the Hadassah Medical Organization hope to prove that PTSD can be effectively prevented. They have designed an experiment that will draw participants from an outpatient emergency department. Those who meet very specific criteria, primarily high risk for developing PTSD, will be given a single 10mg dose of Valium (diazepam). Individuals must be between the ages of 18 and 67. As a control, some of those eligible for inclusion will not be given Valium. Exclusion criteria include physical injury that requires hospitalization, head injury, ongoing trauma (such as an abusive partner), pregnancy, or substance abuse. Researchers hope to recruit 60 individuals by the study completion date of May, 2013. Assessment of results will be conducted using CAPS—Clinician Administered Posttraumatic Scale. The interview lasts roughly 20 minutes and results in an accurate picture of an individual’s PTSD symptom profile.

The non-medical use of tranquilizing medications like Valium in the wake of a traumatic event is common practice, especially in combat situations. Researchers in the Israeli study believe that such off-label use of these drugs may in fact reduce the chances of developing full-blown PTSD. According to the current theory, PTSD can develop when the brain cannot adequately deal with a recent trauma. Sleep disturbances amplify the problem because sleep is essential to repairing brain pathways and organizing memories. Tranquilizing drugs administered immediately after a trauma may dull the magnitude of the event, while forcing the brain to relax and make better sense of reality. The eventual results of the Israeli study will be important for medical professionals working in emergency departments and war zones.

References

  1. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 5, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/DS00246
  2. Prevention of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) With Diazepam. (n.d.). Home – ClinicalTrials.gov. Retrieved July 5, 2012, from http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01221883?recr=Open&intr=%22Diazepam%22&rank=1

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