PTSD endures over time in family members of ICU patients

September 22, 2008

Family members may experience post-traumatic stress as many as six months after a loved one's stay in the intensive care unit (ICU), according to a study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and University of California, San Francisco. The study, published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found that symptoms of anxiety and depression in family members of ICU patients diminished over time, but high rates of post-traumatic stress and complicated grief remained.

"Our findings suggest that family members of patients in the intensive care unit are at risk for serious psychological disorders that may require treatment," said Cindy L. Bryce, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine and health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "Unfortunately, it may be difficult to identify these family members while their loved one is in the hospital because the symptoms that we can observe and measure early – anxiety and depression – do not seem to be associated with the longer term outcomes like post-traumatic stress disorder and complicated grief. This tells us that screening family members after hospitalization is crucial."

The study included 50 family members of patients who were admitted to the ICU. Researchers measured family members' level of anxiety and depression in the ICU and at one- and six-month follow-up. They also measured symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and complicated grief during the six-month follow-up interview.

Forty-two percent of family members exhibited symptoms of anxiety in the ICU. This percentage dropped to 15 percent at six-month follow-up. Likewise, 16 percent of family members displayed depression in the ICU that dropped to 6 percent at six months.

At six-month follow-up, 35 percent of all family members had post-traumatic stress while 46 percent of family members of patients who died had complicated grief. Surprisingly, post-traumatic stress was not more common in bereaved than non-bereaved family members.

"As doctors, we tend to think only of the patient in an intensive care situation," said Wendy Anderson, M.D., lead author and assistant professor, Division of Hospital Medicine, University of California, San Francisco. "Our results show that family members can be greatly influenced by a patient's ICU stay, and that this impact persists after the patient leaves the ICU."

Source: University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Explore further: Burning out in the ICU

Related Stories

Burning out in the ICU

July 7, 2016

A new report on burnout syndrome in critical care health care professionals gives key stakeholders guidance on mitigating the development of burnout syndrome and calls for initiating research to examine ways to prevent as ...

Recommended for you

Artificial beta cells

December 8, 2016

Researchers led by ETH Professor Martin Fussenegger at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering (D-BSSE) in Basel have produced artificial beta cells using a straightforward engineering approach.

Key regulator of bone development identified

December 8, 2016

Loss of a key protein leads to defects in skeletal development including reduced bone density and a shortening of the fingers and toes—a condition known as brachydactyly. The discovery was made by researchers at Penn State ...

Researchers question lifelong immunity to toxoplasmosis

December 8, 2016

Medical students are taught that once infected with Toxoplasma gondii—the "cat parasite"—then you're protected from reinfection for the rest of your life. This dogma should be questioned, argue researchers in an Opinion ...

TET proteins drive early neurogenesis

December 7, 2016

The fate of stem cells is determined by series of choices that sequentially narrow their available options until stem cells' offspring have found their station and purpose in the body. Their decisions are guided in part by ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.