PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) is an acronym everyone is familiar with these days. As troops subjected to prolonged combat in multiple locations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere show the world the grim reminders the toll it takes on the human psyche.
It isn’t anything new, just the name has changed. In World War I, it was known as “shell shock”. In World War II and later its name changed to “combat fatigue”. What hasn’t changed is that is a debilitating disease that affects between seven to eight percent of all adults at one point in the lives. Among the veterans of the recent conflicts in the past decade, those numbers are nearly doubled.
Now doctors at the University College of London and the University of Zurich are trying to break ground in treating PTSD by using a very common antibiotic, doxycycline.
One of the head researchers, Dr. Domenik Bach said “Learning to fear threats is an important ability … helping us to avoid dangers. (But) over-prediction of threat can cause tremendous suffering and distress in anxiety disorders such as PTSD.”
The hope is that the doxycycline will block matrix enzymes, proteins that the brain uses to form memories, which may prove effective in blocking an overactive fear memory. It won’t erase them but suppress them.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that between 7–8% of the adult U.S. population will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, yet there are certain career sectors that possess a demonstrably increased incidence of PTSD among their practitioners. For example, data from the National Center for PTSD suggests that 11–20% of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans will suffer from PTSD in a given year. Additionally, a recent report issued by the International Association of Firefighters states that 20% of firefighters and paramedics have PTSD.
While soldiers and first responders are but two—albeit sizeable—slices of society, they accurately demonstrate the extent to which stigma negatively affects the successful diagnosis of PTSD. Both are not only gritty professions whose members are routinely subjected to repeated psychological trauma, but are industries in which stoicism in the face of carnage has been effectively institutionalized.
In a recent episode of PBS NewsHour, retired Green Beret, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Rodriguez highlighted both the inherent barriers to PTSD diagnosis and the acute need for new diagnostic technologies. He stated, “At that time, I didn’t think I had it. Bought into the stigma. But if there was a tangible test, I think it would make it easier on the patients, but — because it will validate it. You know, like if someone has leukemia, no one ever says, you don’t have leukemia.”
It is thought that the testing for the researchers will take several more years before the treatments are ready for actual testing on soldiers returning from war. But the answers may be found in a simple solution in the guise of a common antibiotic.
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Photo courtesy DOD