Summary of recommended treatments
Psychotherapy is preferable over pharmacotherapy, but both can be combined as needed. Individual trauma-focused psychotherapies utilizing a primary component of exposure and/or cognitive restructuring have strong evidence for effectiveness but are primarily outpatient based.
For pharmacologic treatment, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (for example, sertraline, paroxetine, or fluoxetine) and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (for example, venlafaxine) monotherapy have strong evidence for effectiveness and can be started while inpatient. However, these medications typically take weeks to produce benefits. Recent trials studying prazosin, an alpha1-adrenergic receptor antagonist used to alleviate nightmares associated with PTSD, have demonstrated inefficacy or even harm,leading experts to caution against its use.10,11 Finally, benzodiazepine and atypical antipsychotic usage should be restricted and used as a last resort.12
In summary, PTSD is common among veterans and nonveterans. While hospitalists may rarely admit patients because of their PTSD, they will often take care of patients who have PTSD as a comorbidity. Therefore, understanding the basics of PTSD and how hospitalization may exacerbate its symptoms can meaningfully improve care for these patients.
Dr. Fletcher is a hospitalist at the Milwaukee Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, Wis. She is professor of internal medicine and program director for the internal medicine residency program at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She is also faculty mentor for the VA’s Chief Resident for Quality and Safety. Dr. Kwan is a hospitalist at the VA San Diego Healthcare System and is associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, in the division of hospital medicine. He serves as an associate clerkship director of both the internal medicine clerkship and the medicine subinternship. He is the chair of SHM’s Physicians in Training committee. Dr. Steinbach is chief of hospital medicine at the Atlanta VA Medical Center and assistant professor of medicine in the division of hospital medicine at Emory University, Atlanta.
1. Kang HK et al. Posttraumatic stress disorder and chronic fatigue syndrome–like illness among Gulf War veterans: A population-based survey of 30,000 veterans. Am J Epidemiol. 2003;157(2):141-8.
2. Kessler RC et al. Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005; 62(6):593-602.
3. Cohen BE et al. Mental health diagnoses and utilization of VA nonmental health medical services among returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. J Gen Intern Med. 2010;25(1):18-24.
4. Haviland MG et al. Posttraumatic stress disorder–related hospitalizations in the United States (2002-2011): Rates, co-occurring illnesses, suicidal ideation/self-harm, and hospital charges. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2016; 204(2):78-86.
5. Aurora RN et al. Best practice guide for the treatment of nightmare disorder in adults. J Clin Sleep Med. 2010;6(4):389-401.
6. Blanaru M et al. The effects of music relaxation and muscle relaxation techniques on sleep quality and emotional measures among individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder. Ment Illn. 2012;4(2):e13.
7. Tello M. (2018, Oct 16). Trauma-informed care: What it is, and why it’s important. Retrieved March 18, 2019, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/trauma-informed-care-what-it-is-and-why-its-important-2018101613562.
8. Harris M et al. Using trauma theory to design service systems. San Francisco: 2001.
9. Substance abuse and mental health services administration. SAMHSA’s concept of trauma and guidance for a trauma-informed approach. HHS publication no. SMA 14-4884. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2014.
10. Raskind MA et al. Trial of prazosin for posttraumatic stress disorder in military veterans. N Engl J Med. 2018 Feb 8;378(6):507-7.
11. McCall WV et al. A pilot, randomized clinical trial of bedtime doses of prazosin versus placebo in suicidal posttraumatic stress disorder patients with nightmares. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2018 Dec;38(6):618-21.
12. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs/U.S. Department of Defense. Clinical practice guideline for the management of posttraumatic stress disorder and acute stress reaction 2017. Accessed February 18, 2019.