In a new development, scientists from United States have developed an algorithm that can predict whether trauma survivors are likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder. These findings were published online in Nature Medicine.
This new algorithm which is based on routinely collected medical data will allow doctors and other healthcare professionals to intervene early to mitigate the effects of PTSD.
In United States, nearly 30 million patients are treated in an emergency department for traumatic injury due to car accidents, falls, firearm injuries, and other incidents. Among these patients, experts estimate that 10 to 15 percent will develop long-lasting PTSD symptoms, usually within a year of the injury.
Though many treatment options are available and can reduce the risk for developing PTSD, early intervention strategies can provide the most effective course of action. In many cases these interventions do not take place due to lack of established methods than can predict which patients are most likely to develop PTSD.
Experts over the years have said that for trauma patients whose sole contact with the health care system is often just the emergency department visit, this time is critical to introduce early interventions to prevent PTSD. The earlier people at risk are treated, the better will be the likely outcomes.
The New Algorithm from Columbia University
The new algorithm from Columbia University has the potential to recolonize this particular field of predicting the risk of PTSD in trauma patients.
This new tool collects data like numerous biological and psychological biomarkers that are present in trauma patients that develop PTSD. These biomarkers can include elevated stress hormones, increased inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an abnormally heightened state of anxiety. All these measures together can predict the future risk of PTSD.
In the new study, the scientists used supervised machine learning to develop an algorithm that generates a single PTSD risk score from a combination of 70 such factors.
The team first developed the algorithm with data from 377 adult trauma survivors in Atlanta and then tested the algorithm in 221 adult trauma survivors in New York City to check its validity.
By the results of the algorithm, people who were identified as high risks for PTSD, 90 percent actually developed the disorder within a year and only 5% of patients who were free of long-lasting PTSD symptoms had been identified as at risk. The false negatives were just at 29 percent patients predicted to have no or few PTSD symptoms, but later developed long-lasting PTSD.
The study did have some limitations. The algorithm was built using patients who had blood drawn. It means that this particular model could not be used to for patients who did not undergo blood testing and had more severe injuries.
The team working on the project is now aiming to correct this problem by testing to see if the algorithm can predict PTSD in patients who experience other potentially traumatic health events, including heart attacks and strokes.
The scientists also are hoping that this algorithm can be incorporated into electronic health records. Right now, just 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD. But by incorporating this new tool, doctors can have a new method to screen for people with high risk of developing PTSD.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that is usually triggered by a terrifying event. It can be due to experiencing the event or even witnessing it. Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
Most people who undergo trauma, may undergo a temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time they get better. However, if these symptoms last for months and interfere with daily life, it can mean a person is suffering from PTSD.
PTSD symptoms can start as early as a month of the traumatic event or they can first appear after years. It can be different for everyone. But most people often experience these symptoms within a year of trauma.
PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types including intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Getting effective treatment after PTSD symptoms develop can be critical to reduce symptoms and improve function.