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Only about 40% of people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) find relief from current treatments which typically involve a combination of psychotherapy and medication. But there soon may be a more powerful option, called stellate ganglion block (SGB), that is so fast-acting that relief occurs almost immediately.
A new study of SGB, an injection therapy, published in JAMA Psychiatry reviews research that took place between 2014 and 2018 and included 108 active duty service members who had been diagnosed with PTSD according to a Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS-5) assessment. Two-thirds of participants received a stellate ganglion block (SGB), and one-third received a placebo.
“A stellate ganglion block is a medical procedure—a very brief medical procedure—in which a small amount of a short-acting anesthetic is injected into a bundle of nerves and nerve fibers in the neck,” says Kristine Rae Olmsted, a research epidemiologist with RTI International, the nonprofit research institute that conducted the Army-funded study. “The stellate ganglion is responsible in part for some of the body’s fight-or-flight nervous system.”
Rae Olmsted’s research followed participants for eight weeks. When compared with the placebo injections, the SGB injections were twice as effective at reducing PTSD symptoms in study participants. The group that had placebo injections scored an average of 6.1 points better on the CAPS-5 assessment at the end of the eight weeks, whereas the group that received SGB injections scored 12.6 points better on average.
“Ten points is considered to be a clinically significant change,” Rae Olmsted says. “So, what we saw was a pretty sizable change.”
“60 Minutes” recently reported on SGB and talked to some of the veterans who underwent the procedure. “It’s like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders and my chest,” said one Marine sergeant immediately following a treatment, while he was still lying on the table in the hospital.
“It’s like I can actually relax,” he said, smiling.
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“It’s like I can breathe ... I can actually breathe,” reported another soldier following an injection.
One of the doctors who administers the injections says 80 percent of the soldiers he treats have relief from depression and suicidal thoughts following SGB injections. The effects of a singular injection last up to six months and, for some, even longer, and with no known side effects, reports “60 Minutes.”
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While the study was conducted among active duty service members at three bases—Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii; and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany—Rae Olmsted says the treatment is effective for all causes of PTSD.
“Everybody in our study was an active duty service member, but that doesn’t mean everyone had trauma from combat,” she says. “We did not only include people with combat trauma. So, arguably, some people in the study were survivors of domestic violence, car crashes, sexual assault or any of the other myriad traumatic exposures that can lead to PTSD. So, to answer your question, this could absolutely expand to civilians who haven’t ever experienced combat trauma.”
Of course, Rae Olmsted says more research is needed to determine if the effects of SGB are long-lasting.
“We’re waiting on funding now for a second, larger study that will help us answer that question and others,” she says. “It’s a very important question—how long the treatment lasts—so our new study will follow people for a full year.”
Rae Olmsted says she is hoping her research will cause more providers to offer the treatment, which is only currently available through military installations and a handful of civilian providers. In the meantime, learn how massage therapy could help your PTSD symptoms.
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