Preventing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Children

According to the Mayo Clinic, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is psychological disorder caused by a frightening event or situation. Physical assaults, accidents, and military combat are all well-known triggers of PTSD. One of the goals of modern clinical psychology is the identification of people at greatest risk for PTSD. This goal is especially important for pediatric patients, as childhood traumas can often have lifelong repercussions. Studies in adults have shown that Inderal (propranolol), an anti-anxiety medication and beta blocker, is effective at preventing the development of full-blown PTSD. Researchers at Kent State performed a pilot study at Akron Children’s Hospital to determine whether the same preventative measures could be useful with younger patients.

Twenty-six children were enrolled in the study, based on their perceived risk for PTSD. An interview with the children and their parents generated a narrative of the traumatic event and confirmed the risk of PTSD, and life-threatening trauma or other serious medical conditions were grounds for exclusion from the study. Within 12 hours of admission to the hospital, children were administered either Inderal or placebo for a 10-day period. Parents were educated as to the importance of maintaining a strict dosage schedule.

Follow-up occurred in the participants’ homes six weeks after the initial hospital admission. Only one out of 26 participants met all the criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder, while 11 met some of the criteria. During the follow-up interview, a blood pressure cuff monitored vital signs. The children were each asked to once more provide a narrative of their traumatic injury. The researcher observed overt signs while the arm cuff recorded cardiac rate. Agitation or emotional arousal while narrating the events of a trauma is one of the prime indicators of PTSD. Parents were asked to relay any unusual behaviors their children displayed over the preceding six weeks.

Unfortunately, the results of the study were not statistically significant. The sample size probably contributed to the masking of small effects. Strangely, girls in the Inderal group actually showed a slightly higher rate of PTSD symptoms than those in the control group. This raises important questions about the role of gender in treating childhood trauma with psychotropic medications. Boys showed improvement with Inderal, but not in significant numbers. Researchers speculate that prior trauma history, or lack thereof, likely plays a role in the effectiveness of preventative measures like Inderal.


  1. Nugent, N.R., Christopher, N.C., Crow, J.P., Browne, L., Ostrowski, S., & Delahanty, D.L.(2010). The efficacy of early propranolol administration at reducing PTSD symptoms in pediatric injury patients: a pilot study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 23, (2), 282-287.
  2. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved April 5, 2012, from
  3. Propranolol Oral: MedlinePlus Drug Information. (n.d.). National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health. Retrieved April 4, 2012, from

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