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How Does Stellate Ganglion Block Treatment For PTSD Work?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) disrupts the lives of roughly twelve million people in the U.S. each year. Commonly associated with veterans, PTSD affects individuals from all walks of life who have experienced traumatic events that they could not entirely process. People struggling with PTSD may see their relationships, career, and home life decline as their stressors interfere with everyday activities and avoiding their triggers removes more and more options from their lives. 

Those suffering from anxiety, when it’s severe enough, have similar difficulties. Anxiety derails millions of lives, affecting 6.8 million in the U.S. alone. For both of these individuals, stellate ganglion block (SGB) treatment may be an option worth exploring.

What Is a Stellate Ganglion Block?

During an SGB treatment, a local anesthetic is injected into the stellate ganglion, temporarily numbing the nerves and disrupting their ability to send signals. This can provide relief from the symptoms of conditions like migraines, cluster headaches, and trigeminal neuralgia. This procedure is usually done without the need for sedation and takes less than 30 minutes to complete, after which the patient is monitored for 30 minutes prior to leaving. 

Stellate Ganglion Block for PTSD and Anxiety

The stellate ganglion is a bundle of nerves located in the neck midway between the head and collarbone. These nerves are part of the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the fight-or-flight response, and have been implicated in the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

When the stellate ganglion is activated, it triggers the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which prepare the body for emergency situations, but can also cause inflammation. In people with PTSD and anxiety, the inflammation causes the nerves to be overactive, constantly firing, leading to a chronic and situationally disproportionate stress.

By injecting a local anesthetic into the stellate ganglion, practitioners can temporarily numb or disable these nerves and provide relief from the symptoms of PTSD and anxiety. Essentially, when the fight-or-flight response is suppressed, it allows the brain to enter into a “rest and digest” state, an automatic response that notifies the body when it is safe to relax and heal.

In other words, SGB treatment allows the brain to take a break from the constant, unpredictable stress signals and get the time to “reset” and start functioning properly again. The result is a significant reduction in PTSD and anxiety symptoms, with clinical trials yielding an 83% success rate in the reduction of symptoms. The relief provided by an SGB treatment typically lasts for up to six weeks. If necessary, repeated treatments can be administered to maintain symptom relief.

Like other PTSD and anxiety treatments, SGB may not work for everyone, so keep an open mind and be ready to explore other options if it doesn’t work for you.

Is Stellate Ganglion Block Safe?

SGB treatment has a longstanding safety profile in the treatment of severe pain in the upper body. The procedure is minimally invasive and carries very few risks or side effects. The most common side effect of SGB treatment is temporary bruising or soreness at the injection site. Some people may also report experiencing:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarse voice
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Tingling in the arms
  • Tearing of the eye

These side effects are often mild and typically resolve within a few hours or days after treatment.

Who Is A Candidate For Stellate Ganglion Block Treatment?

If you have PTSD or anxiety that has not responded well to other treatments, you may be a candidate for SGB treatment. To be eligible for the procedure, you will need to undergo a comprehensive evaluation by a qualified professional to ensure that SGB treatment is right for you.

If it’s determined that you’re a good candidate for SGB treatment, the next step is to find a qualified medical professional who specializes in the procedure. While any pain management physician or anesthesiologist can perform the injection, it is important to find someone with experience in treating PTSD and anxiety with SGB.

Emerging evidence also suggests that SGB may relieve prolonged parosmia caused by Covid-19. Parosmia is a distorted sense of smell. Causes include bacterial or viral infections, head trauma, neurological conditions and COVID-19. Parosmia is usually temporary, but in some cases, it’s permanent.  Though more trials are needed, the anecdotal evidence is strong, and the clinical studies conducted have offered promising results with statistically significant findings. 

Final Thoughts

If you are living with PTSD or chronic anxiety and have not responded well to traditional treatments such as medication and therapy, stellate ganglion block (SGB) treatment may be an option worth exploring with your doctor. Although more research is needed to determine the long-term efficacy and potential side effects (if any) of SGB, there is powerful evidence that it can provide substantial relief for people with PTSD and anxiety.

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