Patching the Scars of PTSD

Trigeminal nerve stimulation patch helped post traumatic stress disorder


Scary experiences can leave emotional scars even after years, but there may be hope for long-term survivors of rape, domestic violence and war.

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) found applying an electrical patch to patient's foreheads helped relieve post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

Lead author Ian Cook, MD, commented in a press release, "The chance to have an impact on debilitating diseases with this elegant and simple technology is very satisfying.”

Dr. Cook is a psychiatrist at UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

PTSD occurs when a person survives a terrifying experience to themselves or a loved one. Survivors of rape, domestic violence, severe car accidents and military veterans often develop PTSD.

The symptoms can include flashbacks (re-experiencing the trauma), depression, insomnia and other physical and emotional symptoms. People with PTSD are at increased risk of suicide and social isolation, and often have difficulty with close relationships.

Current treatment for PTSD involves psychotherapy and medication.

Dr. Cook and colleagues tested a treatment called neuromodulation, which uses an external energy source to change the brain's electrical wiring.

This particular treatment stimulates the trigeminal nerve in the forehead with a low-level electric current supplied by a 9-volt battery and delivered through an adhesive patch. The trigeminal nerve is the largest nerve in the head and carries nerve impulses to several different locations in the brain. The patch is applied to the patient's forehead at bedtime and worn while sleeping.

Dr. Cook and his team studied 12 civilian volunteers for eight weeks. The study participants had chronic PTSD and severe depression, and were being treated with psychotherapy, medications or both.

Patients continued conventional treatment and also used the patch for eight hours a night. The volunteers completed questionnaires before and after the treatment period, answering questions about their symptoms.

Overall, PTSD symptoms dropped 30 percent among volunteers.

Depression severity dropped more than 50 percent. For one-quarter of the participants, depression symptoms disappeared completely.

Dr. Cook and his team plan to recruit at least 74 veterans for a trial to test the real patch against a fake or placebo patch. Military veterans are often prone to PTSD.

"PTSD is one of the invisible wounds of war," Dr. Cook commented. "The scars are inside but they can be just as debilitating as visible scars. So it's tremendous to be working on a contribution that could improve the lives of so many brave and courageous people who have made sacrifices for the good of our country."

The study was published in the January issue of Neuromodulation: Technology at the Neural Interface.

No outside funding was provided for the study.

Dr. Cook, who invented the TNS device, is on leave from UCLA and is now chief medical officer for NeuroSigma, which holds the exclusive license. UCLA holds the patents for the TNS technology. None of the other authors had relevant conflicts of interest.