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.

Suggested Citation: Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 2022. https://www.sepsis.org/sepsisand/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/

Updated May 3, 2022.

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

Brooke Miller

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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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Teresa Davis

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In October of 2016 I had a non cancerous ovarian mass removed. In doing so, my doctor clipped my bowel. (Sepsis and Perforated Bowel) I was sewn up, no drains and stayed in the hospital a week before they let me go home. Within two weeks of being home, I couldn’t eat, had no energy, was nauseous, and could not breath if I attempted to lie back. They had me come in right away for a CT. From that point I was given a sedation (during the CT), and sent to emergency surgery. The bowel had been leaking content into ... Read Full Story

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Jenn May

Survivor, 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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Rachel Davis

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

On August 3rd, 2021, I was admitted to the hospital with a breakthrough case of Covid-19. (Sepsis and COVID-19) I was fully vaccinated six months prior. My CT scan showed ground glass opacities in my right lower lung. I was blessed that my oxygen saturation was within normal limits. I was in the hospital for three weeks. Upon my discharge on 8/23/21, I stayed with a dear friend for approximately two weeks. Because of malnutrition and Covid, I believe, I was immunocompromised. I had leukopenia, low neutrophil and absolute neutrophil counts, and I was anemic. (Sepsis and Impaired Immune System) ... Read Full Story

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Tammy H.

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

I don’t know where to start. I had been stuck having breathing issues for over a month. I had been to the ER, Urgent Care. They both did X-rays, and COVID testing and sent me home saying it was just my asthma. So the day comes. I’m at the laundry mat doing laundry. I’m gasping for breath. The worker asked if I was OK. I said I was fine just needed to get home. I got home used my inhaler, did a breathing treatment, and realized it was only getting worse. I called my son into the room and told ... 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.