An initial study finds that traumatized patients who received a single injection of cortisone within a few hours of the event were more than 60 percent less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than those who got a placebo.
The search for innovative methods to treat PTSD is driven in part by the escalation of the disorder among soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq as well as among civilians who have experienced trauma.
Furthermore, current treatment approaches are expensive and display marginal outcomes.
The new intervention is based upon the knowledge that our body will naturally increase secretion of the hormone cortisol after a traumatic event.
In the study, Joseph Zohar, M.D., of Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with Hagit Cohen, Ph.D., from Ben-Gurion University, set out to discover what a single dose of cortisone — a closely related precursor of cortisol — could do, when administered up to six hours after test subjects experienced a traumatizing event.
Among animal models and a small sample of human subjects, the likelihood of development of PTSD reduced by 60 percent.
The results will be published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology in October 2011.
Unlike most psychiatric conditions, PTSD is unique in that is has an easily established timeline — the precise point at which the disorder manifested. This makes PTSD eligible for treatment in the “golden hours” — a medical term that defines the precious few hours in which treatment can be most beneficial following a trauma, heart attack, stroke, or medical event, said Zohar.
Receiving treatment in this window of opportunity can result in dramatic outcomes.
In animal research, Zohar and his fellow researchers first began treating PTSD in the window of opportunity up to six hours after a traumatic event. Two groups of rats were exposed to the smell of a cat, and one group was treated with cortisone after the event.
Following promising results with the rats, the researchers initiated a double-blind pilot study in an emergency room, in which trauma victims entering the hospital were randomly assigned to receive a placebo or the cortisone treatment.
Follow-up exams took place two weeks, one month, and three months after the event.
Those patients who had received a shot of cortisone were more than 60 percent less likely to develop PTSD, they discovered.
Zohar believes the right dose of cortisone at the right time could prove a source of secondary prevention for PTSD, he posited, helping along a natural process.
Currently, traumatized patients are often given medications such as Valium or Xanax, aimed at calming them down. Zohar said these drugs interfere with our natural and potent recovery process, hindering the secretion of cortisone.
“Looking at the long-term effect, people who received these medications had a greater chance of developing PTSD than those who did not,” he said.
The National Institutes of Health has awarded Zohar a $1.3 million dollar grant to expand the small pilot study.
Source: Tel Aviv University