A common anti-anxiety drug may help reduce post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) if given promptly after a traumatic incident. Promising
results from a small study in France show that the drug may be an
inexpensive and effective treatment for the disorder.
In two French emergency rooms, doctors offered the anti-anxiety
drug propranolol to patients within two to 20 hours after a traumatic
injury. These patients were medically stable but had tachycardia--an
elevated heart rate and known indicator of a panic reaction. If, after
lying down for 20 minutes, the heart rate remained higher than 90 beats a
minute, the patients were offered the drug.
Two months later, patients who had declined drug treatment
experienced stress symptoms that were twice as severe. Three out of those
eight patients developed full-blown cases of PTSD. Of those who took
propranolol, only one person of 11 was diagnosed with the
The University of California at San Francisco’s Charles
Marmarr, senior author of the study, suggests that PTSD occurs most often
in patients who have an especially robust and prolonged negative reaction
to trauma. Normally, the stress response--the fight or flight
reaction--lasts only a few minutes. Yet for a quarter of the population,
it can last for hours or days, which can greatly increase the odds of
developing a stress disorder. Marmarr hopes that quickly calming such
patients will prevent PTSD from developing.
The study was published in the November issue of