Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder After a Serious Illness


June 11th, 2018

PTSD, SepsisPost-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after someone experiences a traumatic event. The actual event can be short-lived, such as witnessing an accident or being a victim of a crime, or it can be long-term, like living in an abusive situation or being in a war zone. Not everyone who experiences such events develops PTSD and researchers don’t know why some people do while others don’t.

June is PTSD Awareness Month in the United States, and June 27 is PTSD Awareness Day. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), PTSD affects as many as 7.7 million adults in the U.S. The condition also affects children. Some people with PTSD are sepsis survivors, particularly those who were treated in an intensive care unit (ICU), and even more so if they had to be placed on a ventilator to help them breathe. According to a study from Johns Hopkins, published in 2013, one in three people in the ICU who were ventilated developed PTSD.

Post-sepsis syndrome is a syndrome that affects up to 50% of sepsis survivors. They may be left with physical problems, such as amputations or organ dysfunction, or psychological effects, such as decreased cognitive function or PTSD. Signs of PTSD may include:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Avoiding places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Lack of concentration
  • Feeling jumpy
  • Being easily irritated and angered

If you suspect you may have PTSD, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America offers a screening quiz for symptoms of PTSD. This screening test is meant for printing out and sharing with your healthcare professional. It is not meant to be a replacement for visiting your doctor, nurse, or therapist.

PTSD can be treated with psychotherapy or medication, or a combination of the two. If you believe you have PTSD, speak with your healthcare professional and ask for help. If you are in crisis, call 911, go to the nearest emergency room, or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit their page and click on the “chat” button.