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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition caused by a trauma. The trauma can be a one-time thing (such as being victim of a crime) or long-term (such as living in a war zone or through a natural disaster). No one knows why some people bounce back after a trauma while others develop PTSD or why some people experience PTSD symptoms within weeks of the trauma and others may only start having symptoms years later.

Patients treated for sepsis in an ICU undergo several traumas. They have a serious illness, potentially bringing them to the brink of dying. Their body is subjected to numerous medical interventions. They are often in severe pain, and they feel scared and helpless. Add to this being in the busy ICU environment 24 hours a day, and the situation is primed for a psychological reaction like PTSD.

Some of the symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Having intrusive memories
  • Reliving events
  • Having upsetting dreams or nightmares about the event
  • Avoiding anything that may remind you of your experience
  • Feelings of hopelessness, depression, and anxiety
  • Easy startling
  • Trouble sleeping or concentrating
  • Sleeping too much
  • Getting irrationally angry or aggressive

The symptoms may come and go, or they may linger.

Depression affects family members too

When a loved one is critically ill, family members often feel helpless. They may relive events, wondering if they could have done something different, even once the emergency is over. They may feel guilt over past issues or fear for the future. Their experience is very different from that of the patient, but they, too, have gone through a stressful time and this may go unrecognized, and may lead to depression or anxiety.

Recognizing the problem

Recognizing the problem is the first step towards helping sepsis survivors and their loved ones to deal with lasting psychological issues. People who experience signs of PTSD, depression, or anxiety should acknowledge this and seek help from their doctor or qualified mental healthcare practitioner. These conditions can often be successfully managed through a combination of self-care, counseling or medications.

PTSD can be part of post-sepsis syndrome, or PSS. Learn more here.

To learn more about PTSD and sepsis, read:

This PTSD Awareness Day, Remember the Caregivers

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.

The American Psychiatric Association has more information about PTSD.

If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.” 

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.

Updated November 3, 2021.

Read Personal Stories of Sepsis and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Judith Lipton

Survivor

I nearly died of sepsis almost exactly one year ago, starting on May 22, 2020. I want to tell my story especially since I may be among the few people who have lived through severe encephalopathy and survived without incapacitating brain damage. I also want to educate people about the signs of sepsis, and the need for informed consent. Thanks for listening to me. Even though I am a physician myself and my husband is a professional biologist, we did not recognize the initial signs of sepsis. We should have gone to the hospital right away, as soon as I ... Read Full Story

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Jenn May

Survivor, Survivor

In 2013 I was diagnosed with gastroparesis (my stomach is partially paralyzed and I cannot eat like most people). I had to have a feeding tube to help me receive my nutrition, in 2016 my body declined the feeding tube and I was placed on TPN ( total parental nutrition) my nutrition went through my veins by a Tunneled Hickman ( A central line that was placed in my chest). (Sepsis and Invasive Devices) 2016 began my journey with sepsis every 3-4, months I would be placed in the hospital for a week or more. Some of the stays I ... Read Full Story

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Brooke Miller

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

I got sepsis 5 days after I had surgery for breast implants rushed to hospital. (Sepsis and Surgery) Two weeks in medical coma, 4 weeks ICU, 3 weeks in-house rehab. I had 15 amputations I lost 10 toes, 3 fingers and my breasts. (Sepsis and Amputations) I died in my coma they brought me back chronic pain severe PTSD, anxiety, fibromyasia, neuropothy, and damaged organs kidney, dialysis ( while in coma), 2 blood transfusions, no longer organ donor, no giving blood. I’m on 15 medications daily. My life day to day is a struggle, and I have all the physical and ... Read Full Story

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Jennifer Inskip

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

I gave birth on 3/17/20. I was released after 4 days. The next day of being home, I started to feel ill. (Sepsis and Pregnancy & Childbirth) Heart racing, dizzy, chills. My OB recommended I wait it out due to the Covid situation in the hospitals. The next day, I was much worse. Couldn’t speak or barely breathe. Felt like I had pins and needles all over my body. My husband called 911. I was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with severe sepsis from a UTI. (Sepsis and Urinary Tract Infections) I was on infusion antibiotics for 14 days ... Read Full Story

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Mickey Totten

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

I went to the hospital Sept 3rd 2019 with some chest and shoulder pain. I remember them wanting to do a test for meningitis. That’s the last thing I remember! As I later found out I had walking pneumonia. (Sepsis and Pneumonia) I was intubated but aspirated “food in my lung” and they think that’s where the sepsis started but I still don’t really know. At least that’s what I was told. I woke up in the ICU 17 days later with my leg swollen and red, as well as my hand, twice the normal size from 6 blown IVs ... Read Full Story

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition caused by a trauma. The trauma can be a one-time thing (such as being victim of a crime) or long-term (such as living in a war zone or through a natural disaster). No one knows why some people bounce back after a trauma while others develop PTSD or why some people experience PTSD symptoms within weeks of the trauma and others may only start having symptoms years later.