Finding an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder has been a top Pentagon priority for years. And with an estimated one in five veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from PTSD, the military’s been willing to consider anything and everything, including yoga, dog therapy and acupuncture, to alleviate symptoms. But a small new study out of Walter Reed Army Medical Center might offer more than temporary relief — with nothing more than a quick jab to the neck.
It’s a procedure called stellate ganglion block (STB), and involves injecting local anesthetic into a bundle of nerves located in the neck. The bundle are a locus for the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates the body’s “fight-or-flight” stress response.
Led by Lieutenant Colonel Sean Mulvaney, Pentagon scientists gave STB injections to two soldiers, one on active duty and another who’d been suffering from PTSD symptoms since serving in the Gulf War nearly two decades ago. Their study reports that both men “experienced immediate, significant and durable relief” after the 10-minute procedure, and no longer exhibit symptoms that would qualify them for a PTSD diagnosis. Seven months later, both had successfully stopped using antidepressant and antipsychotic medications with the guidance of a psychiatrist.
While the research out of Walter Reed only tested two patients, a Chicago-based doctor named Eugene Lipov is already conducting his own double-blind trial on war-vet volunteers. One of his patients, 28-year-old John Sullivan, found little relief with prescription anti-anxiety meds. But the former Marine Corps Sergeant told ABC News that the STB injection completely eliminated his nightmares, flashbacks and ongoing anxiety. “[It was] not painful and the results were within five minutes — I felt more relaxed and calmed down. It’s been great.”
Lipov has also conducted before-and-after brain scans on patients. Those suffering from PTSD usually exhibit characteristic “hot spots” that light up when a patient is exposed to violent imagery. After an STB treatment, the brains of PTSD patients no longer displayed the abnormal reactions.
Read more at Wired