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VA Research Spotlight

Highlights of VA research on PTSD

June 10, 2020

VA Research Spotlight is a monthly roundup of research news on topics affecting Veterans' health. This month, in honor of National PTSD Awareness Month, our focus is on research that seeks to understand the underlying causes of PTSD and to develop new treatments for Veterans and others.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD Fact Sheet VA research is committed to funding studies and programs to better understand, diagnose, and treat PTSD. VA investigators are working to develop new treatments for PTSD and are seeking ways to prevent PTSD from occurring after trauma. Ongoing studies range from investigations of the genetic and biochemical foundations of stress disorders to evaluations of new or existing treatments.


VA Research Currents

Can community engagement help Veterans at high risk of suicide?Can community engagement help Veterans at high risk of suicide?
A VA study aims to boost social connectedness among Veterans at high risk of suicide by getting them more involved in group activities such as music, tai chi, or fishing.... (04/22/2020)



PTSD, moral injury tied to pregnancy complicationsPTSD, moral injury tied to pregnancy complications
Elevated symptoms of PTSD and moral injury can lead to pregnancy complications, found a VA study of women Veterans.... (04/14/2020)



Million Veteran Program study sheds light on genetic basis of anxietyMillion Veteran Program study sheds light on genetic basis of anxiety
In the largest genetic study on anxiety to date, VA researchers found new evidence on the underlying biological causes of the disorder. The study used VA Million Veteran Program data to identify regions on the human genome related to anxiety risk.... (01/07/2020)



Past military sexual trauma common in older women VeteransPast military sexual trauma common in older women Veterans
A history of military sexual trauma is common in older women Veterans, found a VA study focused on women age 55 years and older. Also, women who experienced MST were more likely to report multiple health conditions, especially mental health issues.... (09/26/2019)



Abnormal gut bugs tied to worse cognitive performance in Vets with PTSD and cirrhosisAbnormal gut bugs tied to worse cognitive performance in Vets with PTSD and cirrhosis
A study involving Veterans with PTSD and cirrhosis of the liver points to an abnormal mix of bacteria in the intestines as a possible driver of poor cognitive performance—and as a potential target for therapy. ... (09/11/2019)



MVP study identifies genes linked to re-experiencing symptoms in PTSDMVP study identifies genes linked to re-experiencing symptoms in PTSD
A VA Million Veteran Program study has identified multiple locations in the human genome related to the risk of re-experiencing traumatic memories, the most distinctive symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder.... (07/29/2019)



Study: New brain stimulation technique shows promise in easing PTSDStudy: New brain stimulation technique shows promise in easing PTSD
A new VA study found that a form of brain stimulation that can rapidly improve communication between neurons in the brain helped ease PTSD symptoms. The team is also using virtual reality as part of PTSD therapy... (07/10/2019)



Studies: Shame worsens outcomes for Vets with PTSDStudies: Shame worsens outcomes for Vets with PTSD
VA research suggests that feelings of shame may be a key link between PTSD and suicidal thinking among Veterans. One study found that shame "fully accounted for the effects of PTSD on suicidal ideation."... (06/10/2019)



Study: Video games can help Veterans recover from mental health challengesStudy: Video games can help Veterans recover from mental health challenges
A recent study with a small sample of Veterans trying to recover from mental health issues found that video games can help in overcoming such problems as PTSD and substance use disorders.... (05/22/2019)



An intriguing structural finding'An intriguing structural finding'
A new study finds that Veterans and active-duty service members with combat-related PTSD and mild traumatic brain injury had larger amygdalas—the region of the brain that processes such emotions as fear, anxiety, and aggression—than those with only brain injuries.... (04/29/2019)



Study confirms value of prolonged exposure therapy for Vets with PTSD and alcohol problemsStudy confirms value of prolonged exposure therapy for Vets with PTSD and alcohol problems
A VA San Diego study has confirmed the value of prolonged exposure therapy for Veterans coping with both PTSD and alcohol problems. Some experts have worried exposure therapy could worsen drinking in this population.... (04/24/2019)



VA Research in Action

PTSD Coach appPTSD Coach app
In 2011, clinicians at VA’s National Center for PTSD, drawing on research and evidence-based practice from in and outside VA, developed PTSD Coach, a self-management mobile app. As of mid-2019, PTSD Coach has been downloaded more than 425,000 times in over 100 countries and shown encouraging results in several studies.

VA Research News Briefs

PTSD suppresses the brain’s immune system

(05/21/2020)
PTSD suppresses the brain’s immune system A study by VA Connecticut and Yale University researchers showed how PTSD is linked with neuroimmune suppression. The researchers compared brain scans of 23 patients with PTSD and 26 without. They found that patients with lower levels of a protein TSPO in the prefrontal-limbic part of the brain had worse PTSD symptom severity. This protein is a biomarker for activation of microglial cells, the brain’s first form of immune defense. Those with PTSD had significantly lower TSPO levels than those without PTSD. Those with lower TSPO concentration also had higher levels of C-reactive protein, a protein that is increased when inflammation is present in the body. The findings suggest that PTSD hinders the function of the immune system in the brain, according to the researchers. (Nature Communications, May 12, 2020)



PTSD may increase risk of autoimmune diseases

(05/13/2020)
PTSD may increase risk of autoimmune diseases Service members with PTSD may have a higher risk of autoimmune diseases, found a VA-funded study of active duty personnel. As part of the Millennium Cohort Study, researchers looked at data on more than 120,000 service members. They found that those with a history of PTSD had a 58% higher chance of having an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases included rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, inflammatory bowel diseases, and multiple sclerosis. The connection between PTSD and autoimmune diseases was independent of combat experience or prior trauma. The results add to growing evidence that PTSD is a risk factor for autoimmune disease, say the researchers. (BMC Psychiatry, Jan. 15, 2020)



PTSD and alcohol use disorder feed into each other

(05/13/2020)
PTSD and alcohol use disorder feed into each other PTSD and alcohol use disorder can feed into one another and make both worse, according to a VA San Diego study. PTSD and alcohol use disorder often occur together. Researchers studied symptoms in 107 Veterans being treated for PTSD and alcohol use disorder. They found that greater PTSD symptom severity was linked with greater future alcohol use. Likewise, greater alcohol use was linked with greater future PTSD symptom severity. The effect of PTSD on drinking was higher than the other way around. The findings support the idea of mutual maintenance between PTSD and alcohol use. Integrated treatments for both PTSD and alcohol use may be better than expecting patients to reduce alcohol use before beginning trauma-focused treatment, say the researchers. (Psychology of Addictive Behavior, Feb. 27, 2020)



PTSD increases women Veterans’ risk of heart disease

(04/23/2020)
PTSD increases women Veterans’ risk of heart disease PTSD significantly increased the risk of ischemic heart disease in woman Veterans, found a VA Greater Los Angeles Health Care System study. In ischemic heart disease, the heart does not get enough blood because of plaque in the arteries. It is the most common type of heart disease. Researchers looked at data on women Veterans visiting VA medical centers between 2000 and 2017. Out of more than 800,000 women, about 18% had PTSD. These women had significantly higher risk for ischemic heart disease, compared with women without PTSD. This risk was independent of age, obesity, alcohol use, and other factors related to heart disease. Previous research has linked PTSD with ischemic heart disease in men, but studies in women have been limited. The researchers recommend early and routine screening for ischemic heart disease in women Veterans with PTSD. (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, March 2020)



Brain activity relation to emotions could predict PTSD treatment response

(04/23/2020)
Brain activity relation to emotions could predict PTSD treatment response How well patients respond to PTSD treatment may be linked to how regions of the brain activate and connect with other regions, according to a VA study. Researchers used MRI to study brain signals in Veterans with PTSD. Patients were treated with either prolonged exposure therapy, medication, or both and compared to a control group. Results showed that patients with greater activation in brain regions related to emotional processing and modulation before treatment responded better to all types of treatment. Greater connectivity between brain regions involved in attention and emotional processing also positively affected PTSD improvement. The findings suggest that measuring how these brain regions function could help predict PTSD treatment response, according to the researchers. (Depression and Anxiety, April 19, 2020)

View more VA Research News Briefs


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