Physicians could potentially one day identify veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder through a quick blood test instead of complex psychological tests, thanks to new research from the Army and outside biometrics experts published for the first time Monday.
The study, which appeared in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, found a set of 27 blood markers which helped identify patients suffering from PTSD. Researchers said the findings support past hypotheses that the disorder “affects not just the brain, but the entire body.”
In a statement, Army Medical Research Systems Biology Chief Scientist Marti Jett said those markers “will continue to be refined and adapted for commercialization” in coming years. Researchers are hopeful blood tests can lead not only to more accurate diagnoses but also earlier ones, perhaps indicating signs of problems even before PTSD has fully manifested.
Senior study author Dr. Charles Marmar, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine, said a blood test could indicate signs of PTSD that veterans are unaware of or deliberately hiding out of fear surrounding the stigma of the diagnosis. It could also more quickly eliminate PTSD as a potential problem for patients with unclear medical issues.
“This is an attempt to take the field of psychiatry from the subjective to the objective,” he said. “It’s a way to start a new conversation about how to find the invisible wounds of war.”
But the study has limits. No women were among the veterans tracked for the research, and no civilians were included. Marmar said creating a simple, inexpensive blood test for widespread use to help diagnose PTSD is likely still years away. But he still lauded the findings as an important medical breakthrough for health experts looking for ways to more accurately track troops’ health.
Defense Department and Veterans Affairs researchers have estimated that as many as 25 percent of individuals who served in combat zones in Iraq or Afghanistan may suffer from PTSD, marked by uncontrolled anxiety, confusion or anger.