PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a severe health condition that affects a growing percentage of soldiers and veterans who served during military conflicts, including operations in Vietnam, the Gulf wars, Iraq, and Afghanistan. While this disorder is most commonly associated with members of the armed services, anyone who has been affected by a traumatic event may develop PTSD. Traumatic experiences can include witnessing or being a victim of violence, assault, childhood abuse, domestic violence, auto accidents, or other crises such as painful childbirth, losing a baby, medical malpractice, or severe health issues. These situations can impact the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of the person who experienced the ordeal, sometimes severely and for many years.
Symptoms can begin immediately after the trauma or develop over the course of months or even years. As you can imagine, this disorder is complex and can radically change a person’s behavior and personality, especially when left undiagnosed and untreated.
For people with PTSD, a variety of associated symptoms make life more challenging. Flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, anxiety, anger, depression, difficulty concentrating, and irritation are frequent among people who have PTSD. Avoiding people, places, or things that trigger these feelings is also not uncommon. It can be difficult for sufferers to hold down a job and even do many of the things they might have formerly enjoyed. Loved ones who may not understand how deeply this disorder affects people may also be impacted by the symptoms PTSD causes.
Like many other health conditions with symptoms that are primarily behavioral or psychological, diagnosis of PTSD can be challenging. (There isn’t a lab test that will determine if a person has PTSD, many other possible causes need to be ruled out before a PTSD diagnosis is made.) Those seeking medical help – if they are taken seriously – are traditionally offered counseling, behavioral therapy and/or prescription drugs which can include antidepressants, anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety treatments, even opiates. These strategies can help to manage or minimize the occurrences and severity of PTSD episodes in some cases.
Recent medical research has uncovered the fact that specific changes in the brain can be seen in scans of PTSD patients. This is a very important development. In addition to treating the symptoms (anxiety, insomnia, depression, etc.) we can now begin to address the underlying injury of the brain.
While there is no known cure for PTSD, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy has been shown to repair damaged areas of the brain and dramatically reduce and even completely eliminate PTSD symptoms. Although HBOT is a relatively new treatment for PTSD, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy has been used successfully for decades to treat a wide variety of illnesses and wounds by exposing the body to 100% oxygen at a higher than normal pressure. Oxygen plays a critical role in wound healing, in the body and in the brain.
Though many treatments have been tried through the years, “Oxygen is different, because it has a direct biological effect on brain tissue,” said Paul G. Harch, a physician in New Orleans who over the past three decades has used hyperbaric oxygen to treat hundreds of people with chronic brain injury as well as stroke.
Studies published in Medical Gas Research found that military personnel affected by PTSD or traumatic brain injury (TBI) who underwent HBOT treatments showed a significant drop in symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder, including suicidal ideation.
In recent news, two lawmakers, Senator Kevin Cramer (Republican – North Dakota) and Representative Andy Biggs (Republican – Arizona) proposed legislation to both the House and the Senate that would require the Department of Veteran Affairs to offer HBOT treatment to veterans diagnosed with PTSD.
Currently, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is only available in a limited number of VA facilities, including select VAs in Florida, California, Texas, and Oklahoma. In November 2019, VAs in North Dakota was added to the list of participating states in the HBOT study. To join the study, veterans must ask for a referral from their Veterans Affairs mental healthcare provider or their primary care physician.
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