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Pilot study of secondary prevention of posttraumatic stress disorder with propranolol.

Author(s): Pitman RK, Sanders KM, Zusman RM, Healy AR, Cheema F, Lasko NB, Cahill L, Orr SP

Affiliation(s): Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02129, USA.

Publication date & source: 2002-01-15, Biol Psychiatry., 51(2):189-92.

Publication type: Clinical Trial; Randomized Controlled Trial

BACKGROUND: Preclinical considerations suggest that treatment with a beta-adrenergic blocker following an acute psychologically traumatic event may reduce subsequent posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. This pilot study addressed this hypothesis. METHODS: Patients were randomized to begin, within 6 hours of the event, a 10-day course of double-blind propranolol (n = 18) versus placebo (n = 23) 40 mg four times daily. RESULTS: The mean (SD) 1-month Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS) score of 11 propranolol completers was 27.6 (15.7), with one outlier 5.2 SDs above the others' mean, and of 20 placebo completers, 35.5 (21.5), t = 1.1, df = 29, p =.15. Two propranolol patients' scores fell above, and nine below, the placebo group's median, p =.03 (sign test). Zero of eight propranolol, but six of 14 placebo, patients were physiologic responders during script-driven imagery of the traumatic event when tested 3 months afterward, p =.04 (all p values one-tailed). CONCLUSIONS: These pilot results suggest that acute, posttrauma propranolol may have a preventive effect on subsequent PTSD.

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