There is hope for the many soldiers who deal with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), researchers examining how to effectively treat veterans reported.

For this study, the researchers from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) set out to uncover whether or not a psychotherapy regimen can help alleviate symptoms for veterans with sub-clinical PTSD. The team decided to focus on this type of PTSD, which occurs when a person exhibits some signs of PTSD but does not meet the full criteria for a PTSD diagnosis, because it tends to be overlooked by doctors. Researchers also often leave out sub-clinical PTSD patients from their clinical studies, which can result in a lack of treatment options for this group of veterans.

The researchers recruited 200 patients from the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center who had sub-clinical PTSD or full PTSD that stemmed from combat-related trauma. The patients received eight weeks of behavioral and therapeutic exposure therapy that involved helping them relive the traumatic situation in a safe environment and finding ways of resolving certain elements that were linked to the trauma. The severity of PTSD symptoms was rated before the start, during and at the end of the therapy by the patients and psychologists.

The researchers found that the treatment was effective for both types of PTSD. In the sub-clinical group, symptoms of PTSD fell by 29 percent. The decline in the PTSD group was 14 percent. The researchers noted that patients with sub-clinical PTSD appeared to improve at a greater rate than patients with full PTSD, which suggests that PTSD therapies might be more effective at treating sub-clinical PTSD.

"The study shows not only that we can treat those experiencing sub-clinical presentations of PTSD, but also that those with sub-clinical PTSD may actually respond better to treatment than those with more severe forms of the disease," study author Kristina Korte said. "It is our hope that providing treatment for sub-clinical PTSD could have a significant impact on the cost-effectiveness of treating this common disorder. It could lead to the prevention of more intractable forms of PTSD."

The findings of this study suggest veterans with sub-clinical PTSD could potentially benefit from other established therapies that are already being used to treat people with full PTSD. The researchers stressed the importance of treating symptoms of PTSD, which can greatly improve quality of life. 

The study was published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders.