Study Helps Predict Reactions to Trauma in Police Officers

When examining cases of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), we often think in terms of veterans who have been through periods of intense war. One often overlooked group of individuals who are also prone to PTSD are police officers.

According to a Psych Central report, researchers have spent the past 10 years trying to identify whether or not a biological marker exists to indicate if a particular person is at risk for a disorder related to stress. In an examination of recruits for the police force, a new study may provide some insight.

Led by Dr. Charles Marmar, this study found that those with the greatest increase in cortisol, known as the stress hormone, after awakening have a greater possibility of demonstrating acute stress symptoms. This can occur when responding to trauma many years later when performing the duties of a police officer.

Marmar suggests that this study offers significant insight into potential indicators for determining when a person may exhibit symptoms of stress. Few studies take a close look at relationships between acute stress reactions, PTSD and pre-exposure hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activity. The findings from this particular study could offer new insights into the best way to identify individuals at an increased risk for PTSD.

During the study, researchers relied on 296 police recruits and measured their cortisol levels after they were awakened from slumber, and once again after 30 minutes. This measured difference is referred to as cortisol awakening response (CAR).

Researchers determined that when CAR was greater in those participating in academy training. It offered an accurate prediction on increased peritraumatic dissociation, as well as symptoms of acute stress disorder during their first three years on the police force. Individuals studied demonstrated two stress responses linked with an increase in CAR – a dreamlike unreality feeling while a traumatic event was underway, and symptoms of acute stress disorder after the event occurred.