Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients are considered to have excessive EMG responses in the orbicularis oculi (OO) muscle and excessive autonomic responses to startling stimuli. The aim of the present study was to gain more insight into the pattern of the generalized auditory startle reflex (ASR). Reflex EMG responses to auditory startling stimuli in seven muscles rather than the EMG response of the OO alone as well as the psychogalvanic reflex (PGR) were studied in PTSD patients and healthy controls. Ten subjects with chronic PTSD (>3 months) and a history of excessive startling and 11 healthy controls were included. Latency, amplitude and duration of the EMG responses and the amplitude of the PGR to 10 auditory stimuli of 110 dB SPL were investigated in seven left-sided muscles. The size of the startle reflex, defined by the number of muscles activated by the acoustic stimulus and by the amplitude of the EMG response of the OO muscle as well, did not differ significantly between patients and controls. Median latencies of activity in the sternocleidomastoid (SC) (patients 80 ms; controls 54 ms) and the deltoid (DE) muscles (patients 113 ms; controls 69 ms) were prolonged significantly in PTSD compared to controls (P<0.05). In the OO muscle, a late response (median latency in patients 308 ms; in controls 522 ms), probably the orienting reflex, was more frequently present in patients (56%) than in controls (12%). In patients, the mean PGR was enlarged compared to controls (P<0.05). The size of the ASR response is not enlarged in PTSD patients. EMG latencies in the PTSD patients are prolonged in SC and DE muscles. The presence of a late response in the OO muscle discriminates between groups of PTSD patients with a history of startling and healthy controls. In addition, the autonomic response, i.e. the enlarged amplitude of the PGR can discriminate between these groups.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder