Can Anesthesia Help Take Away Painful Memories Of PTSD Patients?

The American Psychiatric Association defines Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, as “a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.” In the past, it has often been associated with war and typically went by the names of “Shell Shock” or “Combat Fatigue”, however it is associated with many experiences other than combat. People who suffer from PTSD have disturbing thoughts or feelings that are somehow related to the traumatic experience they suffered, and they often relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares. There are many therapies and methods used to help treat PTSD, however, a new study poses the question: can anesthesia help take away painful memories of PTSD patients?

The new study, which was published in the journal Science Advances, studied 50 volunteers who were preparing to have a gastroscopy or colonoscopy. The week before the procedure, each volunteer was asked to memorize two slide shows that involved scenarios that most would consider to be upsetting. A week later, right before their procedure, the volunteers were shown the first slide from the scenarios and asked questions about it. After the procedures, half of the group was interviewed immediately following the procedure and half was interviewed 24 hours later, once the anesthesia had worn off.

The volunteers that were interviewed immediately following the procedure remembered the stories from the slide show well. The group that was interviewed 24 hours later had much less recollection of the stories from the slide show, especially the heavily emotional details.

“The [brain] circuitry involved in emotional memory is probably quite sensitive to anaesthetics,” Bryan Strange, study author and a neuroscientist at the Technical University of Madrid, explains in New Scientist. “This is good for a potential treatment because you don’t want to remove information that isn’t dramatic or unwanted.”

Researchers involved in the study hope these findings can be helpful in developing more treatments for patients suffering from PTSD. PTSD is a very complex disorder, however the results will hopefully lead to the development of treatments that can help people who suffer from this disorder each and everyday.