Heart rate responsivity to script-driven imagery in posttraumatic stress disorder: specificity of response and effects of psychotherapy.

Psychosomatic medicine

PubMedID: 16449409

Lindauer RT, van Meijel EP, Jalink M, Olff M, Carlier IV, Gersons BP. Heart rate responsivity to script-driven imagery in posttraumatic stress disorder: specificity of response and effects of psychotherapy. Psychosom Med. 2006;68(1):33-40.
OBJECTIVE
Previous psychophysiological studies of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have found heightened physiological responsivity to trauma-specific stimuli, but mostly in combat veterans with high comorbidity rates and with psychiatric medication. Our aim was to investigate psychophysiological responses in two new populations while excluding those confounding influences and to assess the effects of psychotherapy on such responses.

METHODS
Thirty-nine subjects with PTSD (24 civilian outpatients and 15 police officers) and 15 trauma-exposed, non-PTSD control subjects underwent psychophysiological assessment while listening to neutral, stressful, and trauma scripts. Psychophysiological measures were heart rate (HR) and blood pressure in combination with subjective anxiety ratings. In a randomized clinical trial, 20 of the civilians were then assigned to treatment or waitlist groups. Psychophysiological assessment was repeated on them after the treatment stage.

RESULTS
Both civilians and police with PTSD showed significantly higher HR responses to trauma scripts than the control subjects. After successful psychotherapy with the civilians, HR responsivity to the trauma scripts was significantly reduced, and it correlated positively with PTSD clinical symptoms.

CONCLUSIONS
We confirmed previous findings of heightened psychophysiological responses in PTSD for two new populations while minimizing comorbidity and medication as confounding factors. Successful psychotherapy normalized HR response to trauma imagery.