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New Study Finds ICU Patients Are Showing PTSD Symptoms

12:16 PM, Feb 26, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON D.C. (WUSA9)--While PTSD has been typically associated with soldiers, a new study supported by the National Institute of Health's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute finds that patients who have survived intensive care units (ICU) are showing PTSD symptoms as well. 

"It may be as common, or more common, in ICU patients as in soldiers, but it's something many doctors-including psychiatrists-don't fully appreciate," said Dale Needham, M.D., Ph.D., a critical care specialist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and senior author of the study published online in Psychological Medicine.

The Johns Hopkins team observed 520 mechanically ventilated patients with acute lung injury, which is a syndrome, marked by excessive fluid in the lungs and consistent multi-organ failure. It is considered an archetype for critical illness. The patients were in 13 ICUs at four Baltimore hospitals between October 2004 and October 2007.

35% of the patients showed symptoms of PTSD, with most of these symptoms occurring within the first three months after they left ICU. 62% of those who had developed PTSD still had symptoms at their two-year visit. Those who were given corticosteroids were less likely to develop PTSD while the opposite effect occurred with patients who were given high doses of opiates.

Patients who experience PTSD are having a different type of flashback. While soldiers relive a war zone, patients have delusions or hallucinations of their experiences in the hospital.

The narcotics and sedatives they are given while in ICU contribute to the creation of horrifying memories in their mind that just didn't happen. "One woman thought her husband and the nurse were plotting to kill her," said study leader O. Joseph Bienvenu, M.D., Ph.D, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins.

As PTSD is a serious detriment to the quality of life, researchers are working to identify whether ICU care could be altered in ways that reduce the probability. Another European study, found that when nurses and family members documented the patients time spent in ICU, showing them pictures and recordings when they awoke, these patients were less likely to show symptoms.