The Psychological Effects of Rapid Aeromedical Evacuation in a Predator Exposure Animal Model of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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Recent conflicts have contributed to an escalation in combat-related psychiatric disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although technological advances have increased the speed from which battlefield injuries reach definitive care, mental health conditions have continued to rise. This study sought to analyze the effects of flight stressors and the lack of a postcombat decompression period on stress-related behavior. We hypothesized that a 1-week decompression period before flight would attenuate stress-related behavior compared to no decompression. PTSD-like effects were induced in male Sprague-Dawley rats. The rats were placed in cages with a cat on two occasions during the 31-day stress regimen. PTSD rats were also subjected to daily cage cohort changes. At the conclusion of the stress regimen, the animals were flown on a military aircraft (WC-130J) for 4 hours. They were subsequently tested via elevated plus-maze and fear conditioning system. The PTSD animals that experienced a decompression period demonstrated decreased anxiety as compared to the no decompression group. In contrast, no difference was noted between the non-PTSD decompression and no decompression flight and no flight groups. The decrease in anxiety between the PTSD flight groups suggests that a decompression period before evacuation may minimize the potential for PTSD development.

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Military medicine

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