At this point in the research, though, it’s too early to tell how well beta blockers might work even as a therapeutic aid, Altemus said.
“There were two small studies that have already been done using propranolol for PTSD, where they treated people right when the accident happened — they found people in the emergency room. One study was done in France, and one was done in Boston,” she said. “They did find they were able to reduce the [emotional] intensity of traumatic memories by giving people propranolol for the first 10 days or so after an accident.”
But Altemus also pointed out that PTSD is rather rare, with less than 10 percent of accident victims experiencing the recurrent flashbacks, isolation and avoidant behaviors that are hallmarks of the condition. So, it wouldn’t make sense to hand out propranolol to everyone who’d suffered a traumatic event, she said.
According to the Associated Press, a study released Thursday by the US Army surgeon general’s office estimates that between 4 percent and 5 percent of returning Iraqi veterans with combat experience suffer from PTSD.
Funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, Altemus is currently working to recruit PTSD patients for a large-scale trial of propranolol — a tough job when effective interventions such as exposure therapy already exist. She said that as soon as she’s able to recruit the 60 people needed for the trial, results should be available within a year.
Dr. Altemus since September has obtained one subject a month by report.