SEATTLE — A simple blood test could be instrumental in predicting a person’s likelihood of developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to researchers, individuals prone to this condition display distinct patterns across four biomarkers, measurable through this blood test. The findings suggest these biomarkers could help doctors predict PTSD susceptibility, diagnose the disorder, or monitor treatment responses.
PTSD can manifest after a traumatic event and can significantly impact the affected individual. Currently, it is diagnosed based on symptoms such as flashbacks, sleep or concentration issues, negative thoughts, memory problems, and avoidance of triggers. Given that other disorders may present similar symptoms, diagnosing PTSD and assessing treatment efficacy can be challenging.
The recent study, which analyzed over 1,000 military personnel, is the largest prospective study to date to examine PTSD’s biological markers over time.
“This study offers valuable insights into the natural progression of PTSD and the effectiveness of interventions, which can inform treatment guidelines and improve care for those suffering from PTSD,” says Stacy-Ann Miller of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in a media release. “Enhanced methods of predicting or screening for PTSD could help mitigate the disorder by identifying high-risk individuals and providing them with early intervention or prevention strategies. This could potentially reduce symptom severity or prevent the disorder entirely.”
Biomarkers reflect biological processes and can provide objective measures of physiological changes associated with diseases like PTSD. The study analyzed four biomarkers in blood samples from active-duty service members taken pre-deployment, three days post-deployment, and three to six months post-deployment. These biomarkers, previously linked to stress, depression, anxiety, and mental health disorders, included the glycolytic ratio, arginine, serotonin, and glutamate.
Scroll down to see 8 groups of people at higher risk for PTSD
The study authors divided participants into groups based on PTSD measures and mental resilience, with the four biomarkers compared across these groups. They categorized each person as having PTSD, sub-threshold PTSD, or no PTSD, based on their clinical diagnosis and current symptoms. The team determined resilience based on factors such as PTSD, anxiety, sleep quality, alcohol use disorders, traumatic brain injury, and general physical and mental health.
The results revealed that those with PTSD or sub-threshold PTSD had a significantly higher glycolytic ratio and lower arginine than those with high resilience. People with PTSD also exhibited significantly lower serotonin and higher glutamate than those with high resilience. These associations were independent of factors like gender, age, body mass index, smoking, and caffeine consumption.
“Improved methods of screening and predicting PTSD could lead to more targeted and effective treatments or to identifying specific subtypes of PTSD, which may respond differently to different treatments,” Miller adds.
Scientists stress that further research and validation is necessary to confirm the biomarkers’ applicability in real-world settings.
The findings were presented at the Discover BMB annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) in Seattle in March 2023.
Who faces a high risk of developing PTSD?
PTSD can affect anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. However, certain groups are more likely to develop PTSD due to their higher likelihood of experiencing traumatic situations or because of differences in how they process trauma. These groups include:
- Veterans and active-duty military: They often encounter traumatic experiences during their service, such as combat exposure, which significantly increases the risk of developing PTSD.
- First responders: Emergency personnel like police officers, firefighters, and paramedics are frequently exposed to traumatic events in their line of work.
- Victims of violent crime: Individuals who have been assaulted, robbed at gunpoint, or otherwise victimized in a violent manner have a higher risk of developing PTSD.
- Survivors of disasters and accidents: Natural disasters, serious accidents, terrorist attacks, and other life-threatening situations can lead to PTSD.
- Survivors of abuse or domestic violence: Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, particularly if it occurred over a prolonged period, significantly increases the risk of PTSD.
- Individuals with a family history of PTSD or depression: Genetics might play a role in determining who gets PTSD. Individuals with a family history of mental health conditions, such as PTSD or depression, might be more susceptible.
- People who lack a strong support system: Social isolation or lack of a supportive network can make it harder for individuals to cope with traumatic experiences, increasing the risk of PTSD.
- Children who experience traumatic events: Children, including those who witness violence or have been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused, have an increased risk of developing PTSD.
It’s important to remember that while these groups have a higher risk, PTSD can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background. Furthermore, not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD.
South West News Service writer Chris Dyer contributed to this report.