Researchers Develop Mobile App To Predict PTSD In Trauma Victims

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric condition characterized by repetitive thoughts, anxiety and reactivity post a traumatic experience, by either being a victim or the bystander to the event. It can be an isolated episode or a recurring one over many years. 

PTSD affected 3.6 percent of U.S. adults in the year 2017, according to National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). About 6.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. The distress is so high that it interferes with interpersonal relations, and also causes dysfunction in other areas of life. 

The way in which the disorder slowly seeps into the person is still not known since not everyone develops PTSD after a traumatic event. According to the standard diagnosis, symptoms can be classified into four main clusters: recurrent thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks, avoidance, hypervigilance and ultimately pervasive negativity. 

A recent study by the University of Vermont published Nov. 15 in the journal Depression and Anxiety highlighted a novel tool to detect PTSD within 30 days of experiencing trauma. This is because the nature of the disease is that it's hard to detect since it is unlike conventional illnesses, for which symptoms are easy to spot.

One of the reasons being is that the patients leave the hospital immediately after treatment, or are not in a condition to answer questions because they may be in the throes of trauma. 

To find a solution to this problem, a mobile app was developed by the researchers at the university to ask questions and gather information about their psychological health without being intrusive. Basically, researchers text them a volley of questions and let the patients answer it when they deem convenient through the day. 

The questions were designed in such a way to elicit information on the symptoms on a daily basis for 30 days and how the symptoms eventually shaped up over an extended period of time. They used a short-term dynamic model of assessment to understand how the symptoms sometimes influenced each other and were oftentimes also not related to one another. 

"For one series of symptoms, the symptom chain looked a lot like fear conditioning," Matthew Price, lead author and associate professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of Vermont, said. "People first had intrusive, unpleasant thoughts about what happened to them, which led them to avoid doing things that remind them of their trauma, and that avoidance led to hypervigilance."

Up to this point, PTSD symptoms developed according to the common pattern diagnosed by psychiatrists. However, this study had one little difference when it came to the last stage of experiencing negativity or depression. 

"Depression wasn't influenced by other symptoms and wasn't an influencer; it was off on its own and self-perpetuating. That's very different from full blown PTSD, where fear conditioning and depression are tightly integrated, and suggests a treatment approach that is very different from what is currently done,” Price explained. 

The goal of this study was to figure out how to develop new treatment apart from exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral treatment that are usually recommended. By understanding the symptoms at the onset, they hope to come up with a treatment that targets their acute phase, so that PTSD can be managed more effectively. 

PTSD Understanding the symptoms of PTSD soon after the distressing event is needed to develop better treatment says a new study by researchers at University of Vermont. Reuters