Life After Sepsis Frequently Asked Question (FAQ)

Someone told me that my reactions to things, since I have had sepsis, seem like post-traumatic stress disorder. Is this possible?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a form of anxiety that is usually associated with a major trauma, such as an assault, war, a natural disaster, or something that makes a person feel that they are at risk. However, we have learned over the years that people can develop PTSD after other types of experiences, such as being in an intensive care unit (ICU).

Being in an ICU can be very frightening in many ways. First, you must be very ill or injured to be there in the first place, which is a stress in itself. Then, there is the 24-hour a day action that is constantly occurring in the ICU: noise, people doing tasks, and so on. This often leads to sleep deprivation. It’s often said that one of the worst places to get sleep is in a hospital – and that is not far from the truth.

People in ICUs not only experience pain or discomfort while they are there, they lose their independence. Often, they can’t move, sometimes they can’t even talk. Even their ability to urinate or move their bowels may be out of their control.

A study published in 2001 in the journal Anaesthesia, 38 (47%) of 80 patients who responded to a questionnaire after discharge from an ICU reported significant anxiety and/or depression following their hospitalization. Thirty people complained of PTSD symptoms and 12 had levels that were considered to be consistent with a diagnosis of full PTSD.

Another study in 2004, published in the journal Intensive Care Medicine, researchers contacted 78 patients three months after they had been discharged from an ICU. Again, the researchers found that there were several patients who had signs of PTSD. Interestingly, PTSD was found more frequently among the younger patients.


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Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.