Simple blood test could help with PTSD screening, scientists say

Scientists can now spot biomarkers of PTSD in blood. They say it could help screen and treat trauma.
Scientists can now spot biomarkers of PTSD in blood. They say it could help screen and treat trauma.   -  Copyright  Canva
By Natalie Huet

Blood tests could help improve the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), researchers say.

Doctors may soon be able to screen patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with the help of a simple blood test.

Researchers say they’ve identified four biomarkers - medical signs that can be accurately measured - that display specific patterns in people who are suffering or face a high risk of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The findings suggest these biomarkers could be used to predict a person’s risk of developing PTSD, to diagnose the disorder or even to monitor how a patient responds to treatment.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a very stressful, frightening or distressing event.

People with PTSD often relive the traumatic event through flashbacks and nightmares. They may also have persistent issues with sleep or concentration, negative thoughts, memory loss, irritability and guilt.

The latest study, which involved over 1,000 active-duty military service members in the United States, constitutes the largest one of its kind to assess the biological markers of PTSD over time, according to the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

“Improved methods of screening and predicting PTSD could inform better treatment approaches by providing a deeper understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms of the disorder,” Stacy-Ann Miller, a researcher at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland, said in a statement.

“This could lead to the development of more targeted and effective treatments for PTSD or to identify specific subtypes of PTSD, which may respond differently to different treatments”.

When blood samples can reveal mental health disorders

For this research, blood samples were taken from service members before a 10-month deployment, three days after their return and three to six months after their return.

Researchers classified the service members as having PTSD, sub-threshold PTSD or no PTSD based on their clinical diagnosis and symptoms.

They also classified their “mental resilience” based on factors including PTSD, anxiety, sleep quality, alcohol use disorders, traumatic brain injury and overall physical and mental health.

When analysing the blood samples, researchers focused on four biomarkers that have been previously linked to stress, depression, anxiety and mental health disorders.

These are the glycolytic ratio, a measure of how the body breaks down sugar to produce energy; arginine, an amino acid active in the immune and cardiovascular systems; serotonin, which helps regulate mood, sleep and other functions; and glutamate, which plays a role in learning and memory.

The researchers then compared the four biomarkers among the different groups of service members. They found that those with PTSD or sub-threshold PTSD had a significantly higher glycolytic ratio and lower arginine than those classified as having high mental resilience.

People with PTSD also had significantly lower serotonin and higher glutamate than those with high resilience.

Researchers said these associations were not explained by other factors such as gender, age, body mass index, smoking or consumption of caffeine and energy drinks.

However, they cautioned that more research was needed to confirm that these biomarkers could be useful in real-world settings.

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