Utility of cervical sympathetic block in treating post-traumatic stress disorder in multiple cohorts: A retrospective analysis


Advocate Illinois Masonic Pain Management Center, Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center


Background: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a prevalent and debilitating condition in the United States. Success rates for evidence-based therapies are inconsistent, and many suffer in silence due to the stigmata associated with seeking traditional mental health care. This has led clinicians to explore new therapeutic options, with cervical sympathetic blockade (CSB), performed at the stellate and/or superior cervical ganglion levels, recently emerging as a promising treatment option. Rapid therapeutic onset, improved compliance, and high clinical efficacy rates have made this an attractive approach for both providers and patients. However, to date, CSB as a treatment of PTSD has primarily been used in male patients with military-related trauma.

Objective: To evaluate the efficacy of CSB as a treatment option for PTSD in both genders and multiple etiologies of psychological trauma.

Study design: Retrospective cohort study.

Setting: An established anesthesia pain clinic in Chicago, IL, USA.

Methods: Following retroactive IRB approval, 484 consecutive cases of patients diagnosed with PTSD and treated with CSB, performed by a single provider (December 2016 - February 2020) were analyzed. The primary outcome measurement was the PTSD Checklist Score version DSM IV (PCL-4). Patient demographic and clinical information collected included age, gender, type of trauma leading to PTSD, history of suicidal attempts, and psychiatric medication use.

Results: After exclusion of cases due to missing data points, 327 patients were included in the final statistical analysis, having completed both PCL-4 pre and post CSB, between 7- and 30-days post-intervention. The patient population included military men (n = 97), civilian men (n = 85), military women (n = 13) and civilian women (n = 132). We identified 21 types of self-reported trauma leading to PTSD. Average decrease in PCL score for men and women was 28.59 and 29.2, respectively. Statistical analysis of the male population with a military background showed a significantly greater change in corresponding PCL scores than civilians (PCL-M change = -31.83 vs PCL-C change = -24.89). Likewise, women who had a military background had a significantly greater reduction in PCL score than civilians (39.15 vs 28.23). Statistically significant improvements in PTSD symptoms were noted independent of the causative trauma type, gender, age greater than 20, previous suicide attempts, or use of prescription medications for PTSD. Among the 21 types of reported trauma, 19 types reached statistical significance.

Limitations: Limitations include the limited scope of observation giving exclusive focus on pre- and post-PCL data, the limited duration of observation, the self-reported nature of the patient-provided data, and the provision of treatment by a single physician.

Conclusion: CSB seems to be an effective treatment for PTSD symptoms irrespective of gender, trauma type, PTSD-related drug use, suicide attempt, or age.

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