One in 10 patients is at risk of having new post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to their ICU experience up to a year post-discharge, according to research published online ahead of print in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

PTSD can occur in patients after the traumatizing events of critical illness, and this multicenter, prospective cohort research study of veterans and civilians provides estimates on new cases of PTSD stemming specifically from the ICU experience.

Researchers analyzed data from a cohort of medical and surgical ICU survivors enrolled in studies from three Veterans Affairs hospitals and one civilian hospital. Using the PTSD Checklist for the DSM-IV to determine PTSD for this study, among PTSD measurements listed by the US Department of Veteran Affairs’ National Center for PTSD, a total of 181 patients were assessed at three months and 160 were further assessed at 12 months.

Key results include:

  • The cumulative incidence of PTSD was 6 to 12% within one year following hospitalization.
  • Assessing risk factors for ICU-related PTSD, the researchers found that pre-existing PTSD as well as prior depression were strong risk factors associated with ICU-related PTSD at three and 12 months post-discharge.
  • Being a veteran did not increase risk of ICU-related PTSD, nor did duration of delirium, amount of pain medication, or amount of sedative.


“Although lower than prior research and public perception suggests, the rate of ICU-related PTSD is very comparable to the 8% PTSD rates seen in current and former service members deployed to the recent Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts,” said lead researcher Mayur Patel, MD, MPH, FACS, assistant Professor of Surgery & Neurosurgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Staff Surgeon and Surgical Intensivist at the Nashville VA Medical Center

Patel added: “It is important to understand more about PTSD following the traumatizing events of a critical illness so we can better support the growing number of ICU survivors.”