Blood Pressure Medication Being Studied to Treat PTSD
The distressing symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder disrupt the lives of approximately 5 million Americans at any given time, including 10% to 30% of combat veterans and sexual assault survivors. In the American Civil War, the disorder was referred to as "soldier's heart".
A Canadian researcher once lauded by Forbes as one of "Ten People Who Could Change the World" is pioneering experiments using a commonly prescribed blood pressure medication to dull the painful memories of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dr. Karim Nader of Montreal's McGillUniversity is attempting to reduce the emotional response generated by painful memories using the beta blocker propranolol. Propranolol (propranolol hydrochloride) has been on the market for over 40 years, marketed as Inderal or Inderal LA.
Nader and his team are not attempting to eradicate painful memories, but instead to lessen their emotional impact. Years ago, Nader discovered that memory can be altered just by the very act of remembering – a process he dubbed "memory reconsolidation". He developed a technique he called "reconsolidation blockade" in which memories and the associated negative emotions are altered during the reconsolidation phase to lessen their unpleasant impact, reducing a traumatic memory to just a bad memory.
Propranolol's role in the reconsolidation blockade process is to target hormones such as adrenaline that are released during or while reliving a traumatic event. "These hormones can actually boost how intensely memories are stored," Nader explains, "So if you can block these hormones you block the boosting, but you're keeping the information intact." The blood pressure medication is usually given to patients with angina or high blood pressure because of its ability to block adrenaline. Propranolol medication is such an effective adrenaline blocker it can even help counter adrenaline effects such as stage fright and trembling – a quality that led to a ban on its use by Olympic athletes.
Nader teamed up with Dr. Roger Pitman from the HarvardMedicalSchool in Boston to test the effects of the blood pressure medicine in a group of patients who had suffered from PTSD for over ten years. They divided the study participants into two groups, and had them relive a painful memory, measuring their physiological response. The researchers gave one group propranolol while they relived the traumatic event, and the other group a placebo. When they asked both groups to recall the traumatic memories again a week later, the group given the beta blockers drugs experienced a reduced physiological and emotional response to the memories. "We found that we can bring the strength of the memory down to non-PTSD levels," reports Nader, "Which really is just crazy for someone who has had PTSD for 30 years."
PTSD is an anxiety disorder arising out of a terrifying and or life threatening event such as war, sexual assault, a serious accident or a natural disaster. PTSD sufferers are tormented by persistent disturbing thoughts and memories of their ordeal. Other symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, a high startle response, shame and guilt, sleep and eating disturbances, difficulty concentrating, emotional numbness, avoidance of situations reminiscent of the traumatic event, depression and anger. PTSD is usually treated with a combination of antidepressant medication and therapy.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lynn is a writer with an interest in health and wellness who researches and writes about medications. She feels strongly that everyone should have access to affordable medicine, and advises consumers they can save on generic Inderal and other blood pressure medication through the online Canadian pharmacy Big Mountain Drugs.