News Brief: Posttraumatic Symptoms Triggered by Hospital Care

July 1, 2006

Physicians should be prepared to screen for posttraumatic responses that may be triggered by routine hospital care in previously traumatized patients.

Physicians should be prepared to screen for posttraumatic responses that may be triggered by routine hospital care in previously traumatized patients, according to a group of researchers from the department of psychiatry at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Sarah Birmingham, MD, Lynne M. Gaby, MD, and James L. Griffith, MD, retrospectively reviewed 401 psychiatric consultations completed in a general hospital over 1 year. Eighteen of the consultations involved patients identified as having posttraumatic symptoms (re-experiencing, hyperarousal, avoidance, dissociation) triggered by routine care in the hospital. In all of these cases, the medical team or the patient did not initially associate the symptoms with the patient's previous history of trauma. Since systematic screening was not used in this study, the actual prevalence of posttraumatic reactions was probably higher, the researchers said. They recommended screening for such reactions so that patients can receive appropriate trauma-specific interventions.