Dr. Mulvaney and Dr. Lynch have published by far more original research on this topic than any other scientists in the world. Our doctors have performed more SGBs for PTSD than any other team. Dr. Lynch and Dr. Mulvaney have been performing and studying SGB for PTSD for over 12 years.
Over this 12-year period, Dr. Mulvaney has completed over 2,000 ultrasound-guided SGBs and is the most experienced physician in the world at this technique. He has been an invited speaker on nationally broadcast television, including the CBS show 60 Minutes. He has taught hundreds of physicians neck sonographic anatomy and SGB technique.
Beginning in 2011, Dr. Lynch served as a top leader in ultrasound-guided SGBs in the military and trained numerous other physicians to perform this procedure. He has unmatched firsthand follow-up and continuity with hundreds of his SGB patients, having served in the same Special Operations community with them for over 10 years. This unique patient follow-up and close collaboration with behavioral health clinicians was pivotal in developing Dr. Lynch’s deep understanding of how best to utilize innovative SGB techniques in conjunction with trauma-focused therapy.
Both of our doctors are academic physicians and have published 12 studies and papers on this topic. Dr. Mulvaney and Dr. Lynch are routinely invited as subject matter experts on stellate ganglion block to lecture on this topic on major national and international stages.
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, combat, or rape or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence or serious injury. Some propose using the term Post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI) to de-stigmatize the term “disorder” and to indicate the biologic nature of the traumatic injury sustained which can be healed with proper treatment, such as stellate ganglion block.
Many people who are exposed to a traumatic event experience symptoms such as:
Being irritable or easily startled, having angry outbursts or problems concentrating or sleeping
Distressing dreams or repeated, involuntary memories
Avoiding activities and situations that may trigger distressing memories
Feeling detached or estranged from others or difficulty experiencing positive emotions
For a person to be diagnosed with PTSD, these symptoms must last for more than a month and must cause significant distress or problems in the individual’s daily functioning. Symptoms may appear years after the trauma and often persist for months and sometimes years. PTSD often occurs with other related conditions, such as depression, substance use, memory problems and other physical and mental health problems.
PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults every year, and an estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime.
The Stellate Ganglion is part of the cervical sympathetic chain, a key part of the sympathetic nervous system, which is the “fight or flight” nervous system. In PTSD and some other anxiety conditions, the “fight or flight” nervous system gets stuck in the “ON” position. By precisely placing long-acting local anesthetic (ropivacaine) around the stellate ganglion, the unproductive and chronic “fight or flight” response is turned off for several hours. Dr. Mulvaney and Dr. Lynch believe this allows the brain and the body to “reset” back to a non-anxiety state. The brain has a quality called “neuroplasticity”, which means it can actually have durable change in response to treatments like an SGB. What we do know and can measure is this “resetting” results in long-term relief of anxiety symptoms.
In our clinical practice and research, Dr. Lynch and Dr. Mulvaney have primarily used SGB to successfully treat the anxiety symptoms associated with PTSD. We researched which specific symptoms seem most improved from SGB. While many people improve in a variety of their symptoms, the symptoms of “hyperarousal” improve dramatically for most. These symptoms, caused by a stimulated sympathetic nervous system, include irritability, angry outbursts, and poor sleep. The physical symptoms which accompany re-experiencing traumatic events (“flashbacks”) including racing heart, sweating, and increased body tone are also sympathetically driven and improve greatly after SGB. We know that these symptoms can be debilitating , ruin relationships, and serve as barriers to effective therapy.
We have also used SGB successfully to treat some anxiety conditions which have overlapping symptoms with PTSD, but the evidence for anxiety conditions other than PTSD is only anecdotal, or based on what we see in clinical practice.
The overall risks of having a significant adverse event are very small (much less than 1 in 1000) when performed by a skilled provider with ultrasound guidance. There is a very small risk of a seizure from inadvertently injecting the local anesthetic into a blood vessel. There is an extremely small risk of forming a dangerous hematoma (collection of blood from a bleeding vessel). This risk is very small in people not taking blood thinning medications. SGB should not be done in people currently on blood thinning medications. About 20 percent of the time after a block, some patients get a hoarse voice or feel like there is something in the back of their throat. This occurs when the anesthetic spreads to another nerve near the larynx. This is not a mistake, it just happens sometimes. The hoarse voice or feeling in your throat, if it occurs, will wear off in 3-6 hours.
We carefully screen our potential patients to select those that have the best chance of having success with the SGB. In a properly selected patient, we have a published success rate of over 85% (defined by significant improvements in the PCL-5 score).
About one third of patients are successfully treated with a single SGB and do not need another SGB. Some people may be exposed to conditions that “re-trigger” their PTSD symptoms and need another treatment in the future. It can be safely repeated if it was helpful the first time. Completing follow up PCL-5 surveys at one week and one month after your SGB is performed is very important so we can document whether this was a good therapy for you.
Most insurances do not cover SGB as a treatment for PTSD. This means that you will most likely have to pay for your procedure out-of-pocket.
The Stellate Institute provides procedural expertise, but perhaps equally important, we also provide 10+ years of personal experience performing SGB, quantifiable published outcomes on hundreds of OUR patients, and lessons learned from our behavioral health colleagues–this is what you get with The Stellate Institute.
The cost of an SGB at The Stellate Institute is $1200 for a one or two-level block on the same side.
If you are requesting that an SGB be performed on both the right and left sides (this requires 2 appointments with at least 12 hours between procedures), the cost is $2000 total.
No. Sedation actually significantly increases the risk of this procedure. Our doctors have performed over 2000 SGBs and have not used sedation on a patient. This procedure is NOT painful. Most patients describe it as a 1/10 for pain. The environment in our clinic is calm, and we will talk you through everything. Even people who don’t like needles will do fine.
Ultrasound allows the needle to be safely guided around the nerves and blood vessels in the neck as it is placed next to the stellate ganglion. Under x-ray (fluoroscopic) guidance, only bones are visible, so nerves are not visible at all and their position can only be approximated. Using ultrasound guidance to safely perform an SGB takes special training and considerable skill, which many pain medicine trained physicians do not have. Although during his fellowship in anesthesia/pain medicine at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Dr Mulvaney learned to do SGBs with fluoroscopic-guidance, he rejected this method as being more painful, less efficacious and unnecessarily risky as it exposes patients to contrast dye and ionizing radiation from the x-ray. Doesn’t it just make sense that you should be able to actually see your target as well as avoiding major blood vessels and nerves?
Our doctors routinely perform SGB at the 6th cervical vertebral level (C6). After the June 2020 publication by Dr. Mulvaney, which shows that two level blocks may be more beneficial, clinical practice changed so patients will also be offered an additional injection at higher cervical levels such as C4 or C3. Although there are over 20 peer-reviewed medical publications showing efficacy and safety when the SGB is done at the C6 level, Dr. Mulvaney’s June 2020 publication was the first study showing that two level blocks may be more beneficial. There are well-referenced anatomical differences in how a person’s sympathetic chain courses through their neck which may explain the additional benefits of a two level block in some patients. There is no additional fee if additional levels are performed.
Our doctors were the first to publish a grading scale to evaluate and measure Horner’s syndrome which is expected after a successful SGB. Horner’s syndrome is a series of temporary changes that happens on the side of the body that was blocked only once the “fight-or-flight” nervous system has been successfully turned off. Some of the changes are easily visible and includes ptosis (the eyelid will droop), miosis (the pupil will get smaller) and scleral icterus (the white part of the eye become red). After performing an SGB for a patient, Dr. Lynch or Dr. Mulvaney will ask another staff person to grade and assign the resulting Horner’s syndrome a score (to reduce bias). Although this is uncommon, if for some reason the Horner’s score is not adequate by 5 minutes after the SGB, we will then repeat the procedure on the same side. (below is a picture of a typical Horner’s response).
Although SGB has been demonstrated in the medical literature to provide durable relief of anxiety symptoms associated with PTSD, no therapy is 100% effective for all patients. A patient may have other medical conditions affecting their anxiety symptoms which may not respond to treatment with SGB. However, if they are a good candidate for this therapy, (PTSD diagnosis with an elevated PCL-5 score) and they fail to respond to a right-sided SGB, then the patient should consider a left-sided SGB. This must be done at least one day later for safety reasons. (NEVER have a block on both sides of the neck within a 12-hour period; in theory this could result in a fatal blockage of the airway).
Although the exact figure is not known at this time, about 1-5% of patients will not respond to a right-sided SGB but will respond profoundly to a left-sided SGB. Dr. Mulvaney and Dr. Lynch studied this effect and published these encouraging results in 2020. Our data suggests that some people, perhaps as high as 20% of people, even if they partially respond to a right sided SGB, may have a more profound response to a left-sided SGB. This appears to be the case because some people have anatomic differences in how their “fight or flight” system is wired. If they fail to respond to a properly performed SGB with a good resulting Horner’s on the right or left side, then SGB is not an effective therapy for this patient and further SGBs should not be attempted.
Studies show that high levels of anxiety from any cause, (including PTSI), can directly affect sexual functioning in men and women. Imagine someone running from a tiger; their anxiety and stress levels are so high that sexual arousal is virtually impossible. Decreased arousal capacity has to do with elevated levels of an excitatory hormone called norepinephrine in the fluid surrounding the brain. Experiencing the loss of normal sexual function may produce significant anxiety, which adds to the total burden of anxiety and contributes to stress on relationships. An SGB has been shown to significantly reduce a person’s total anxiety and can result in the return of normal sexual functioning.
Although there is currently no published medical evidence supporting this, in our clinical experience, we have been seeing significant improvement in some TBI symptoms, such as chronic headaches, when SGB is done on the right side followed by SGB on the left side the next day. Again, this is not supported by published research and represents our current expert opinion based on thousands of patients we have treated with SGB.
For critical safety reasons, the right SGB and the left SGB should be done on different days. In published human research studies, SGB causes temporary changes in blood flow to the brain, and this may contribute to the benefits we see clinically.
SGB is not a treatment for Depression, Bipolar disorder, Schizophrenia or any variants of Schizophrenia, Personality Disorders or Seizure disorders. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and PTSD symptoms can overlap. We have not found SGB to be specifically helpful for treatment of TBI. It can help the PTSD symptoms that may also be present, such as irritability, angry outbursts, and sleep difficulties.
It is important to note that your symptoms may be more helpful than your diagnosis here. We will continue to research what works best for whom and how to incorporate SGB into other treatment modalities.
Everyone is screened prior to being scheduled. No additional appointment is needed for screening.
The accepted medical practice is that you cannot drive for 8 hours after this procedure. Please plan to have a driver with you or use a driving service like Uber.
Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) is the closest airport and is 25 minutes to the North. Reagan International Airpot (DCA), is 50 minutes away, and involves traveling on the 495 Beltway, which may have heavy rush hour traffic. Dulles International Airport (IAD), is approx 1.5 hours away and also subject to heavy traffic. There are many lodging options in the greater Annapolis area. Ask our front desk for more information.