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Virtual Reality Therapy May Help PTSD Patients
Date:5/7/2008

Coupled with medication, it helps ease the shock of trauma, study finds

WEDNESDAY, May 7 (HealthDay News) -- People suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder may ultimately benefit from a combination of prescription medication and cutting-edge virtual reality psychotherapy, new research suggests.

The study findings are preliminary. But, early results with Iraq war veterans point to a potent way to help PSTD patients through the use of drugs along with exposure to interactive reenactments of the sights, sounds, smells, and movements related to a highly traumatic experience.

"I am very optimistic," said study lead author Barbara O. Rothbaum, a professor of psychiatry, and director of the Trauma and Anxiety Recovery Program at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "We think that, aided by medications, virtual reality is going to be a useful way to help people haunted by an experience confront their fears in a more complete and therapeutic way."

Rothbaum and her team were expected to present their findings Wednesday at the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting, in Washington, D.C.

Post-traumatic stress disorder affects about 7.7 million American adults, although it can strike at any age and is more common among women, according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, sponsor of the new study.

The risk for developing PTSD is highest following exposure to physical harm or the threat of physical harm. Soldiers at war are particularly vulnerable, but victims of rape, violent assault, and even traumatic accidents may also develop the disorder.

A range of anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications can help manage, but not cure, PTSD. The medications are often prescribed along with cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Rothbaum and her colleagues decided to explore the potential of one form of exposure therapy -- virtual reality treatment -- among 24 war veter
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