After a tragedy, such as witnessing violence or experiencing it oneself, it is not unusual for an individual to develop a condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Characterized by fear, anxiety and frequent flashbacks, the condition often makes it very challenging for those with severe cases to function in normal life.
Treating PTSD usually involves the utilization of therapy, focusing on a specific type of therapy called exposure therapy, in which patients learn to handle their fears within a safe situation. However, while the treatment is very effective for many patients, there are some who require additional help to recover from their symptoms.
A study conducted by researchers at the Center for Anxiety Disorders in the Netherlands recently examined whether a medication prescribed for other anxiety disorders may also be beneficial to those with PTSD.
The drug is called D-cycloserine (DCS), and while the drug does not directly affect the symptoms associated with PTSD, it is useful in introducing increased neuroplasticity. This means that the drug allows brain circuits to alter themselves when presented with new experiences.
The researchers recruited patients diagnosed with PTSD and provided up to 10 weeks of exposure therapy. The participants were randomly placed in two groups, with one receiving DCS and the other receiving a placebo, with no disclosure regarding which pill they were receiving. The researchers assessed the severity of symptoms both before and following treatment.
The analysis showed that all of the participants exhibited an improvement in symptoms following sessions of exposure therapy. This was true for both the group receiving the DCS and the placebo group.
The researchers found that among the group given DCS to aid in treatment, there were significant improvements noted in a specific type of patient. Those who had a very severe case of PTSD prior to beginning treatment experienced significantly better symptom improvement than those with very severe PTSD who were given the placebo.
First author Rianne de Kleine, Ph.D., explains that the study showed that for many who experience PTSD, the exposure therapy is very effective and will help the patients achieve a full recovery. However, for some who need an additional boost to realize the same results, the use of DCS may be a good choice. Those with severe cases of PTSD or individuals who do not respond well to exposure therapy may benefit from using DCS.
Kleine believes that DCS is helpful for the patients in which the study was designed to provide a solution for; the severe patients who struggle to recover using traditional treatment.
The study provides important information for treatment of PTSD, especially in cases where the symptoms have been very severe. A patient who may experience some benefit from exposure therapy may receive a needed additional benefit from using DCS.