Trauma patients admitted to ICU at greater risk of developing PTSD

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after experiencing a traumatic event and may lead to poor recovery and psychological difficulties. Studies over the past few years have shown that admission to an intensive care unit (ICU) is associated with the development of PTSD.

There are several established reasons why PTSD might be associated with admittance to ICU. For instance, life-threatening injuries and the psychological trauma associated with witnessing a traumatic event can increase the risk of developing PTSD. Additionally, people with a psychiatric history are more likely to be admitted to ICU for a traumatic injury than the general population.

An Australian team of researchers recently conducted a study to determine if admittance to ICU itself increased the risk of developing PTSD, and to uncover any other factors that might increase that risk even further. They found that, independent from any other risk factor, people admitted to ICU were three times as likely to develop PTSD. Other factors that increased this risk were:

  1. The presence of a mild traumatic brain injury
  2. Female gender
  3. History of trauma or psychiatric disorder
  4. Longer length of hospital admission

The research team cited 3 possible reasons that ICU admission could increase the risk of PTSD. Sleep disturbance, increased stress, and delirium from certain drugs could all play a role in how the brain processes traumatic events. Screening tools to identify high-risk patients and low doses of sleep agents may be effective interventions.

O'Donnell ML, Creamer M, Holmes ACN, et al. Posttraumatic stress disorder after injury: Does admission to intensive care unit increase risk? Journal of Trauma Injury, Infection, and Critical Care. (February 2010).