Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment Shows Promise for PTSD

  Words by John Hinkley.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD for short, is a psychiatric disorder that affects people who have been part of or witnessed a life threatening experience, such as military combat. Most people will return to normal over time, but some individuals can’t get over it on their own, or even have it get worse over time. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged. These symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person’s daily life.

There have been many different things tried to help relieve symptoms of PTSD such as: exposure therapy, medical marijuana, and even virtual reality systems. Over the past few years a new treatment option has emerged and it is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, or HBOT. The therapy session itself is relatively simple. During each session, the participant enters an oxygen chamber, where the air pressure slowly increases. The treatment lasts for approximately 90 minutes, until it reaches 100 percent oxygen.  The idea is to increase the amount of oxygen in the body’s tissues and red blood cells which theoretically, can change the way the body heals.

Dr. Paul Harch who is a Louisiana-based medical researcher began looking into hyperbaric oxygen therapy as a way to treat both PTSD and traumatic brain injuries in veterans. In 2007, Harch started testing his theory on lab rats. After a 40 day series of therapy the rats has “an increa-se in contused hippocampus vascular density and an associated improvement in cognitive function.” In layman’s terms, they could think better.

Dr. Harch then went on to run a 3 year study on Veterans.  According to the study, the therapy helped the majority of the soldiers cope with headaches, sleep disruption and mood swings. Their IQ was also boosted, they had increased blood flow in the brain, which subsequently reduced PTSD symptoms and suicidal thoughts. HBOT has not been approved by the FDA yet.

Edward Lucarini, an Iraqi war Veteran, suffered a traumatic brain injury in April of 2003. After only 2 treatment sessions he reported less cloudiness in his mind. After over 80 treatments he found himself doing things he hadn’t been able to accomplish in years. While more testing and research needs to be done, there seems to be some hope on the horizon for those Veterans suffering from PTSD.

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