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FDA-Approved Drug Works for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

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"PTSD is a chronic and debilitating disorder that affects a surprisingly large number of people," says David Tolin, PhD, of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety in Philadelphia. "Therefore, it's extremely important for us to have effective and efficient treatments that can alleviate its symptoms. With the addition of sertraline to the available treatments, this should help a large number of PTSD sufferers."

In this study, patients received either sertraline or a sugar pill, called a placebo, for 12 weeks. Physicians used rating scales to determine if there were changes in symptoms and also to determine if there was overall improvement in the patients' quality of life and symptoms of depression, which are common in PTSD.

At the end of the trial, 53% of the participants had responded to the medication. "Not only did the medication decrease symptoms significantly compared to placebo, but also people seemed to be able to live their lives more fully with this treatment," says Brady.

Sertraline was generally well tolerated by the patients, although insomnia was a significant problem for 16% of them. Patients also lost more weight with sertraline than the placebo during the trial.

"In terms of the literature, this is the largest and most conclusive study yet published, but there are a number of drugs that also show promise. There's just not as much evidence to support their use as was provided for this drug," Friedman tells WebMD.

"I'd call the findings exciting but I would not call it a miracle," says Tolin. He notes that although patients in the study got better, many remained symptomatic even after sertraline treatment.

Tolin also points out that other therapies, such as cognitive behavior therapy, are also helpful for PTSD. He says he expects other companies will seek FDA approval for their PTSD medications within the next few years. "It is likely that we'll find different treatments can be used concurrently to provide maximal effects," says Tolin.

Vital Information:

  • A new study shows that the antidepressant Zoloft (sertraline) may be effective against posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), improving symptoms, overall functioning, and quality of life.
  • Symptoms did not completely disappear with the drug treatment, and insomnia was reported as a side effect in some patients.
  • Other types of therapy are available to treat PTSD, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, and a combination of treatments may be the best approach.
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