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Systematic review and dosage analysis: hyperbaric oxygen therapy efficacy in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder

Susan R. Andrews and Paul G. Harch

Neuropsychological Services for Children and Adults, Metairie, LA, United States, Section of
Emergency and Hyperbaric Medicine, Department of Medicine, LSU Health Sciences Center, New
Orleans, LA, United States

Background: Studies of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) treatment of mild traumatic brain injury persistent postconcussion syndrome in military and civilian subjects have shown simultaneous improvement in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or PTSD symptoms, suggesting that HBOT may be an effective treatment for PTSD. This is a systematic review and dosage analysis of HBOT treatment of patients with PTSD symptoms.

Methods: PubMed, CINAHL, and the Cochrane Systematic Review Database were searched from September 18 to November 23, 2023, for all adult clinical studies published in English on HBOT and PTSD. Randomized trials and studies with symptomatic outcomes were selected for final analysis and analyzed according to the dose of oxygen and barometric pressure on symptom outcomes. Outcome assessment was for statistically significant change and Reliable Change or Clinically Significant Change according to the National Center for PTSD Guidelines. Methodologic quality and bias were determined with the PEDro Scale.

Results: Eight studies were included, all with < 75 subjects/study, total 393 subjects: seven randomized trials and one imaging case-controlled study. Six studies were on military subjects, one on civilian and military subjects, and one on civilians. Subjects were 3-450 months post trauma. Statistically significant symptomatic improvements, as well as Reliable Change or Clinically Significant changes, were achieved for patients treated with 40-60 HBOTS over a wide range of pressures from 1.3 to 2.0 ATA. There was a linear dose-response relationship for increased symptomatic improvement with increasing cumulative oxygen dose from 1002 to 11,400 atmosphere-minutes of oxygen. The greater symptomatic response was accompanied by a greater and severe reversible exacerbation of emotional symptoms at the highest oxygen doses in 30-39% of subjects. Other side effects were transient and minor. In three studies the symptomatic improvements were associated with functional and anatomic brain imaging changes. All 7 randomized trials were found to be of good-highest quality by PEDro scale scoring.

Discussion: In multiple randomized and randomized controlled clinical trials HBOT demonstrated statistically significant symptomatic improvements, Reliable Changes, or Clinically Significant Changes in patients with PTSD symptoms or PTSD over a wide range of pressure and oxygen doses. The highest doses were associated with a severe reversible exacerbation of emotional symptoms in 30-39% of subjects. Symptomatic improvements were supported by correlative functional and microstructural imaging changes in PTSD-affected brain regions. The imaging findings and hyperbaric oxygen therapy effects indicate that PTSD can no longer be considered strictly a psychiatric disease. 

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