Israeli soldiers treated for PTSD with hyperbaric oxygen therapy

A new study shows that treatment with hyperbaric oxygen may give fresh hope to people suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

 Hyperbaric chamber for hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Hyperbaric chamber for hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT).
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

For the first time, scientists have been able to reduce post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms through hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). It is a form of treatment in which the patient inhales 100% oxygen in chambers of pressures exceeding one atmosphere absolute, a term often used in SCUBA diving, meaning the sum of barometric and hydrostatic pressures.

The problem of treatment-resistant PTSD

The study, which was conducted from March 2018 to April 2019, was published in the peer-reviewed PlosOne journal. It was led by Prof. Shai Efrati, Dr. Keren Doenyas-Barak, Dr. Ilan Kutz, Dr. Merav Catalogna, Dr. Efrat Sasson, Dr. Amir Hadanny, Gabriela Levi and Yarden Shechter from the Sagol School of Neuroscience in cooperation with the Faculties of Medicine and Life Sciences at Tel Aviv University and the Shamit Medical Center.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a disorder in people who have suffered through psychologically traumatic experiences. Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, hyper-vigilance and a number of other debilitating symptoms that lead to considerable dysfunctions in the patient’s social, occupational and interpersonal activities.Previously, treatment of PTSD has included medications and focused therapy that have had a limited effect. Nearly half of patients experience treatment-resistant PTSD.

The patients for the study were IDF veterans ages 25-60 with combat-associated PTSD that had lasted for at least four years. They arrived at the study through referrals by their psychiatrist or psychotherapist or applied after seeing advertisements that were posted in social media groups. They were then filtered according to requirements posed in a questionnaire until the researchers had a group that fit their requirements.

 IDF soldiers practice evacuating injured soldiers during a 2022 winter military drill. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT) IDF soldiers practice evacuating injured soldiers during a 2022 winter military drill. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

After being selected, the patients were put through a series of examinations and then split randomly into treatment and control groups. The patients in the treatment group continued with their therapy from before the study and were given 60 daily sessions of HBOT five days a week. The patients in the control group continued with their therapy but did not undergo HBOT.

HBOT to the rescue?

After three months, the patients underwent a series of tests to determine whether they had improved. The HBOT group showed significant improvements over the control group in multiple tests.

“We believe that in most patients, improvements will be preserved for years after the completion of the treatment,” Doenyas-Barak said. “This study gives real hope to PTSD sufferers. For the first time in years, the study’s participants, most of whom had suffered from severe PTSD, were able to leave the horrors behind and look forward to a better future.”

Efrati said: “Today we understand that treatment-resistant PTSD is caused by a biological wound in brain tissues, which obstructs attempts at psychological and psychiatric treatments.

“With the new HBOT protocols, we can activate mechanisms that repair the wounded brain tissue. The treatment induces reactivation and proliferation of stem cells, as well as generation of new blood vessels and increased brain activity, ultimately restoring the functionality of the wounded tissues. Our study paves the way to a better understanding of the connection between mind and body.”