A shot of cortisone stops traumatic stress

October 4, 2011, Tel Aviv University

As soldiers return home from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, America must cope with the toll that war takes on mental health. But the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is becoming increasingly expensive, and promises to escalate as yet another generation of veterans tries to heal its psychological wounds.

New hope for preventing the development of PTSD has been uncovered by Prof. Joseph Zohar of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Sheba Medical Center, in collaboration with Prof. Hagit Cohen from Ben-Gurion University -- and the key is a single dose of a common medication.

When a person suffers trauma, the body naturally increases its secretion of . Taking this into account, Prof. Zohar set out to discover what a single extra dose of cortisone could do, when administered up to six hours after test subjects experienced a traumatizing event. The results, which will be published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology in October 2011, indicate that the likelihood that the patient will later develop PTSD is reduced by 60 percent.

Opening the window of opportunity

In most , it is impossible to establish a precise point of time at which the disorder manifested, Prof. Zohar says. But PTSD is unique in that is has an easily established timeline, beginning from the moment a patient experiences trauma. 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. Receiving treatment in this window of opportunity can be critical.

In their animal models, Prof. 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 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 sixty percent less likely to develop PTSD, they discovered.

Mimicking Mother Nature

When searching for a treatment method for PTSD, Prof. Zohar took his cue from Mother Nature. Most people who survive a traumatic experience don't develop PTSD because the cortisone that our body naturally produces protects us from developing the condition. But 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.

His approach also may circumvent the harm caused by dosing traumatised patients with other pharmaceuticals. In the emergency room, traumatized patients are often given medications such as Valium or Xanax, aimed at calming them down. In fact, Prof. Zohar says, these pills 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 explains.

Prof. Zohar will expand this small pilot study with a $1.3 million dollar grant from the National Institute of Mental Health. He and his fellow researchers are teaming up with Prof. Rachel Yehuda of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, who will help them uncover the biochemical processes and underlying mechanisms of cortisone treatments for traumatized patients.

People who suffer from PTSD are haunted by their traumatic memories; for them, the past is always present, Prof. Zohar explains. Cortisone, given at the right dose at the right time, may alleviate the power of these traumatic memories by preventing their consolidation.

Explore further: Marijuana blocks PTSD symptoms in rats: study

Related Stories

Marijuana blocks PTSD symptoms in rats: study

September 20, 2011
Marijuana administered in a timely fashion could block the development of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in rats, a new study conducted at Haifa University has found.

Researchers find novel drug target for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder

September 5, 2011
A team of researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine has identified a promising therapeutic target in the brain that could lead to the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is the first evidence of a ...

Post-traumatic stress disorder common following significant orthopedic trauma

May 9, 2011
Although most commonly associated with military combat, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur in civilians, too – and with consequences that are just as serious, according to a new review article in the Journal ...

Recommended for you

People with prosthetic arms less affected by common illusion

January 22, 2018
People with prosthetic arms or hands do not experience the "size-weight illusion" as strongly as other people, new research shows.

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.