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Mental Health Center

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Paxil Poised to Battle PTSD's Big Three

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Dec. 6, 2001 -- Posttraumatic stress disorder can be emotionally crippling, and some have predicted an epidemic following the events of Sept. 11. But a new study shows that one well-known drug may be the first medication approved to treat all aspects of the illness.

PTSD can follow a traumatic experience, such as surviving or witnessing a violent physical attack or injury. Other distressing circumstances that can trigger PTSD include being in a serious accident, seeing someone killed, and surviving a terrorist bomb blast or war.

In PTSD, memories of the traumatic event intrude into daily life and even into dreams. The person with PTSD "relives" what happened, over and over again -- experiencing great anxiety and distress in the process.

People with PTSD are usually extremely self-protective, or hypervigilant; they startle easily; and have trouble concentrating. They may also be depressed and/or have phobias, such as intense fear of leaving the house. Recurring PTSD episodes can be so upsetting that the person with PTSD actively avoids people or environments that may trigger them.

Researchers at the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University say that the antidepressant Paxil is the first drug shown to treat all three major symptoms of PTSD.

Paxil is a cousin drug of other antidepressants, including Prozac, Zoloft, and Celexa.

In the study, more than 550 people with PTSD received either Paxil or a placebo for 12 weeks. The researchers looked closely at each person's symptoms, including re-experiencing the traumatic event, avoiding social situations, and being hypervigilant.

The study was partially funded by GlaxoSmithKline, Paxil's manufacturer.

People taking Paxil had significant improvement compared with those taking placebo. This was true for both men and women, and regardless of what type of trauma triggered their PTSD.

In addition, Paxil improved depression, which is often seen in people with PTSD. Those taking the drug were able to function better socially, with family, and at work.

Paxil is reportedly in the final stages of approval for the treatment of PTSD. Should it get the OK, the researchers say it would be the first drug for fighting the three evils of this long-term disease.

With reporting by Daniel DeNoon

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