Old pill helps relieve nightmares of war
Treatment: Blood pressure drug gives rest to thousands of veterans who fought in conflicts ranging from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan
JOE BARRENTINE/THE NEWS TRIBUNE
The war followed Gillian Boice home from Iraq and into her dreams.
The thrashing would begin minutes after the Army officer fell asleep. She sometimes screamed out battle orders. She often woke the next morning already exhausted.
Relief came in the form of a decades-old blood pressure drug. Puget Sound-area military health specialists have turned it into a leading treatment for nightmares, after experimenting with it as a long shot.
“Prazosin has changed so, so much in my life,” said Boice, a retired military police lieutenant colonel living in Olympia. “I couldn’t sleep before, and it’s given me my nights back.”
Thousands of veterans who fought in conflicts ranging from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan are taking prazosin for trauma-related nightmares. Its nighttime use started at the Seattle VA hospital and has spread across the country.
Today, the prazosin initiative is one of Madigan Army Medical Center’s most visible campaigns on Fort Lewis. Signs in company headquarters buildings and banners attached to fences outside – many with the slogan “Got Nightmares?” – can be found all over post.
Other treatments required sedatives, which could become addictive and often sidelined service members from future deployments. But this drug doesn’t appear to have any major side effects, officials said.
Three trials of the drug’s effect on nightmares have been positive, and the Puget Sound VA and Madigan Army Medical Center are in the midst of larger studies that aim to establish the use of prazosin as standard practice to fight nightmares.
Dr. Murray Raskind, the director of the VA’s Northwest Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center, first experimented with using the drug to treat nightmare-stricken Vietnam veterans.
A hypersensitivity to adrenaline triggered many of their nightmares. Prazosin helps dull those spikes in the hormone, which the body naturally creates to speed the heart rate and raise awareness of one’s surroundings.
The drug can also be used during the day to cut down on flashbacks, a product of the same adrenaline hypersensitivity.
About 75 percent to 80 percent of patients who try prazosin stop having nightmares – but continue to dream – within days of starting treatment, said Raskind and Maj. Jess Calohan, the assistant chief of psychiatry at Madigan. Calohan is overseeing the hospital’s nightmare initiative.
[Boice] saw one of the nightmare initiative signs at Madigan and called.
“Taking it was just amazing,” she said. “The nightmares went away in a few days. I had forgotten what a good night of sleep was like.”
There's much more at the link.
Thanks to CJ.