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For PTSD patients, a diagnosis can be as important as treatment

For some veterans, coming home can be hard. It can be even harder after serving in the military overseas during wartime. Often, returning soldiers have difficulty transitioning back to civilian life.

Making it even more difficult is the potential for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a disorder that many soldiers will battle but won’t admit to having for fear of what others may think of them.

But now, diagnosis – and then treatment – of PTSD is becoming a lot less difficult.

Thanks to Apostolos Georgopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., Regents Professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Neuroscience, and Brian Engdahl, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the University’s Brain Sciences Center, PTSD can be identified with 97 percent accuracy with the use of a magnetoencephalography (MEG) machine.

The MEG machine, housed at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, may look fairly basic, but it’s the most accurate and safest tool to test for PTSD. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of them out there.  With only an estimated 60 MEG machines in existence worldwide, Georgopoulos and Engdahl have been busy.

In fact, in the last four years they’ve scanned more than 700 brains, which is more than all other MEG machines in the world combined. With the help of the MEG machine, Georgopoulos and Engdahl are now able to identify what they call a “PTSD stamp” after finding it in 72 out of 74 brain scans examined during a recent clinical trial.

As a result, the researchers now have solid evidence that PTSD is a real disorder, giving veterans and their families some solace in the fact that there was truth behind what they’d been experiencing; some for many years.

With Georgopoulos’ and Engdahl’s help, American veterans can identify and treat PTSD without fear of being perceived as weak.

“This MEG scan gives us some perspective that this is a real problem and a real disorder,” said Georgopoulos.  “And with a diagnosis can come the potential for treatment, which is the ultimate goal.”

  1. August 23, 2012 3:58 pm | Todd Says:

    I have a bit of a problem with a couple of statements:

    “researchers now have solid evidence that PTSD is a real disorder”

    “gives us some perspective that this is a real problem and a real disorder”

    I think anyone who has battled the long term effects of PTSD will tell you it is real. We do not need a machine to tell us. I am not discounting the value of the diagnosis through a physical marker, I am just saying this study does not make PTSD “real”. It’s been real.

  2. August 23, 2012 4:07 pm | Justin Paquette Says:

    Todd, thanks for your comment; insinuating that PTSD wasn’t a “real” disorder prior to this research was definitely not our intent. If that was how it read to you I apologize. Our real goal was to portray that our researchers simply want to make it easier for veterans (or anyone with PTSD) to get the help they need and deserve through a clinical diagnosis. The MEG machine does that and could help provide valuable evidence to doctors trying to treat the condition. As you mentioned (and as our video discusses) anyone suffering from PTSD knows they’re battling the condition and don’t necessarily need a machine to prove it, but our docs want to diagnose clinically so that the most appropriate treatment can be fast tracked. I hope we didn’t offend you or others as that wasn’t our intent. Thank you for the feedback, and for reading.

    -Justin (Managing Editor, Health Talk)

  3. August 24, 2012 7:19 am | John Luke, MD Says:

    This article discusses patients at a VAMC. Did non-veteran PTSD patients get scannned as well? Are there differences between veterans with multiple combat deployments vs. single event PTSD such as car accidents and rape?

    • August 24, 2012 2:13 pm | Matt DePoint Says:

      John, thanks for your comment. We reached out to one of the doctors working closely on this project requesting an answer to your questions. At this time, we have not heard back from him. Once an answer is provided, we will be sure to pass that along to you via the Health Talk blog.

      -Matt (Contributing Writer, Health Talk)

      • August 27, 2012 10:16 am | Matt DePoint Says:

        John, Dr. Brian Engdahl provided me with answers to your previous questions regarding PTSD. According to Brian, they haven’t yet looked separately at those who served one tour vs. those who served more than one. Typically, additional deployments add to the risk of developing PTSD. Brian’s team has not yet received funding to study non-veterans, but are confident they will and that the results will be very similar.
        Within their veteran samples, the primary traumatic experiences not only include combat, but many instances of motor vehicles accidents, childhood sexual/physical abuse, post-service assaults/rape, and others. They have separately analyzed these groups and found no differences in their results.

        Thank you for reading the Health Talk blog. We hope this information was helpful and informative.

        -Matt (Contributing Writer, Health Talk)

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