People with PTSD or are at high risk of PTSD have specific patterns in four types of biomarkers that can be measured through a blood test.
The research suggests the biomarkers could be used as a tool to predict whether a person is likely to develop PTSD, as well as help diagnose the condition and monitor how effectively someone is responding to treatment.
“Having molecular patterns for a guide has the potential to define groups of PTSD which will respond to various treatment regimens. The last thing you want is for people with PTSD to despair of success and quite trying if they are given unsuccessful treatment regimens,” Stacy-Ann Miller, author of the study and a researcher at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland told Theravive.
The study is the largest prospective study to examine biological markers of PTSD and involved more than 1000 service members.
A biomarker is a molecule found in the blood that can indicate a biological process. This can be used as a measure of psychological changes in the body that may be associated with conditions like PTSD.
In undertaking their study, the researchers examined four biomarkers in the samples of blood from active-duty service members. The samples were taken before their 10 month deployments, three days after they returned and three to six months after they returned.
The biomarkers studied included arginine, which has a role in the immune system and cardiovascular system, the glycolytic ratio, which indicated how the body breaks down sugar to use for energy, serotonin, that plays a role in mood regulation and sleep and glutamate which influences learning and memory functions.
The biomarkers studied have all been linked to depression, stress, anxiety and mental health disorders.
Over 1000 service members were categorized into groups based on their mental resilience and measures of PTSD. The researchers then compared the biomarkers in the different groups.
The participants were groups as either having PTSD, no PTSD or sub-threshold PTSD. Their mental resilience was based on factors like sleep quality, alcohol use disorders, traumatic brain injury, exposure to combat, anxiety and general mental and physical health.
Miller said service members were often hesitant to report any psychological difficulties they were experiencing.
“It became apparent that Soldiers avoided reporting symptoms that could be related to psychological issues. Some Soldiers later said that they did not want their superiors to believe they were ‘weak’ and there is a common fear that admitting to psychological issues might be a stigma and affect promotion. The Army firmly tells the troops that there is no stigma, but maybe it is a self-macho image and/or these young 20-30 year-old Soldiers do not clearly recognize how destructive these symptoms could become,” she said.
The researchers found that those with PTSD or sub-threshold PTSD had higher levels of glycolytic ratio and lower levels of arginine compared with those who had high mental resilience.
Those with PTSD and higher glutamate than the participants with high resilience and lower levels of serotonin.
Miller says the screening tool may help soldiers to become more forthcoming about any psychological issues they may be experiencing.
“The time period we see the most psychological issues is (approximately) 2-3 months post return from deployment and when the Soldier is preparing for their next assignment, perhaps a next deployment. This might be the best time to screen using a PTSD tool,” Miller said.
“Positive results could enable the Soldier to address an issue before it becomes more severe (nightmares, uncontrolled anger, self-destructive behavior, etc.). Psychologists agree that prompt treatment has good chance of success or at least to alleviate the problem.”