Nerve Blocking Can Ease the Worst PTSD

A simple anesthetic procedure called a stellate ganglion block (SGB) has been shown to help veterans suffering from chronic, extreme post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), based on a small pilot study. This procedure is commonly used to treat a variety of symptoms and involves injecting a small amount of local anesthesia into the base of the neck.

“While it doesn’t cure the problem, we found that SGB appears to be a fast-acting and effective long-term treatment for chronic, extreme PTSD in veterans,” said Michael T. Alkire, M.D, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of California, Irvine. “These improvements far outlasted what we would expect from SGB, which is usually used as a temporary nerve block and typically lasts three to five hours.”

For the study, 12 patients were given one SGB and followed for 6 months, engaging in structured interviews and other psychological tests. The researchers found the SGB improved PTSD symptoms immediately and increasingly improved these symptoms as time passed. In one month, Clinician Administered PTSD Score, or CAPS, scores showed normal to mild PTSD levels for most of the patients. Improvements were seen up to three months and then were typically gone by six months. Overall, 75 percent of the patients reported significant improvement of their PTSD symptoms.

“Further work is needed to identify which patients might respond best to this treatment as well as understand the mechanisms involved that produce such a rapid, dramatic and long-term change in psychological health for some patients,” said Alkire.


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