The Sellate Ganglion Block Method Potentially Blocks Out Fear

A study to be published in February, 2012 reveals a dramatic new approach for the treatment of post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD) in soldiers and veterans.

The novel treatment is known as Stellate Ganglion Block (SGV) and involves injecting patients in the neck to block the sympathetic ganglia, a structure of the sympathetic nervous system responsible for alerting the body of an impending danger. The system involves thousands of nerve cells along the spinal cord firing messages throughout the body in response to stress. The resulting hyper-arousal leads to physical changes, including a sudden release of cortisol and adrenaline and an acceleration of heart function, designed to help the body fend off a perceived attack.

Negative biological consequences occur, however, when the body's stress reactions do not subside, and stress hormones levels remain elevated. The immune system is negatively affected and physical and emotional problems often ensue.

PTSD Treatment Aimed Towards The Military

Struggling to survive under the constant threat of attack, combat soldiers are routinely exposed to violent and traumatic events that make them particularly prone to developing PTSD. The anxiety disorder is marked by hyper-vigilance, extreme fear and distress, nightmares, flashbacks, isolation and withdrawal from social settings and others, difficulty concentrating, and tendency towards angry outbursts. Seen as both a sign of weakness and shame in the military, many service-members suffer silently, choosing to hide their symptoms rather than to seek out support and expose themselves. Such avoidance, unfortunately, causes many to use drugs or alcohol to numb their pain.

Traditional treatments include cognitive behavior therapy, a form of psychotherapy that trains the patient to identify associated thoughts and feelings. Prescription medications are available to address the biological changes caused by the condition. Alternative treatments, such as transcendental meditation and yoga, have also been utilized.

Patients Find Long-Term Relief With Stellate Ganglion Block

Eugene G. Lipov MD, an Illinois anesthesiologist and pain management specialist, originated the SGV approach to treat PTSD in 2007, theorizing that trauma increases nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein necessary for nerve cell survival. He suggested that the rise in NGF leads to the development of new sympathetic nerves, which in turn, increases neurotransmitter production of hormones associated with anxiety. His initial study prompted the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Naval Medical Center in San Diego to conduct its own research, with SGB emerging as a promising procedure in that study as well.

The current report by Dr. Lipov and his team involved providing the procedure to eight PTSD patients with persistent symptoms despite years of standard treatment. In monitoring the patients, Lipov found that six of the eight experienced significant, long-term relief, with the other two experiencing improvement in their symptoms, but to a lesser degree.

Experts are continuing to evaluate the treatment, and various US senators involved in military affairs have been recruited to increase funding for additional SGB research for PTSD. The goal is to find more cost-effective treatments for the 35 percent of combat soldiers afflicted with the condition.

The study was published in Military Medicine, an international journal by the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States.

Date of original publication:
Updated on: December 05, 2016

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