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Jab to the neck treats PTSD?

July 28, 2010 3:17:47 PM PDT
All it takes is one loud noise to trigger a flood of awful memories. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) haunts one in every six soldiers coming back from Iraq, and nearly eight million Americans in all. Standard treatment means therapy and medications that don't always work and have side effects. Now, one doctor is treating PTSD with an injection that he says can block the painful memories.

"I was firing a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). When I pulled the trigger, it malfunctioned, and it blew up in the tube. Injured seven marines and killed three, all good friends of mine," said John Sullivan, an Iraq Veteran.

Thirteen surgeries, several skin grafts, and two years of therapy later, Sullivan is in a much more peaceful place, but that doesn't mean he's safe from the effects of war.

"I was riding on a bus with my uncle going to a baseball game, and the tire blew out?started having a panic attack," Sullivan said.

Sullivan was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder. It can occur after you've seen or experienced a traumatic event that involved the threat of injury or death. According to the National Center for PTSD, statistics indicate that approximately 7 to 8 percent of people in the United States will likely develop PTSD in their lifetime. For combat veterans and rape victims, the chance of developing PTSD is as high as 30 percent.

Untreated PTSD can have devastating, far-reaching consequences. It can prevent someone from functioning in daily life and can ruin relationships. Economically, PTSD can have significant consequences as well. As of 2005, more than 200,000 veterans were receiving disability compensation for this illness, at a cost of $4.3 billion. This represents an 80-percent increase in the number of military people receiving disability benefits for PTSD.

Anti-anxiety meds didn't work for Sullivan, so he's trying an experimental treatment: an injection to the neck to stop PTSD.

"The way I look at PTSD, it's a biological problem. It's no different than a broken arm," said Dr. Eugene Lipov, the Medical Director of the Advanced Pain Center.

Dr. Lipov is the first to use a local anesthetic to treat PTSD. It's called stellate ganglion block (SGB). It's been used since the 1920s to treat pain.

"It works in 30 minutes. What else works in 30 minutes?" said Dr. Lipov.

Dr. Lipov says when a traumatic event is experienced, nerves in the brain sprout like flowers. By applying the local anesthetic, the nerve growth factor returns to normal.

In a recent study at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, doctors found the shot provided "immediate, significant and durable relief" for two soldiers who didn't respond to pills. Other doctors say more safety studies need to be done before the treatment is widely used.

The treatment seems to have worked for Sullivan.

"I'm not really taking any more anxiety medication or sleeping medication. I can sleep through the night without having panic attacks," said Sullivan.

There are risks of any injection into the neck, including seizures and lung problems. Dr. Lipov does have FDA clearance to use the injection on patients. He says one injection could last years, even a lifetime. It costs between $500 and $1,000. Dr. Lipov is currently performing a single blind study to provide the data needed to make this a more widely accepted treatment.


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