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Posttraumatic stress disorder in children and their parents following admission to the pediatric intensive care unit: A review

Nelson, Lara P. MD; Gold, Jeffrey I. PhD

Pediatric Critical Care Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/PCC.0b013e3182196a8f
Review Article
Abstract

Objective: To evaluate posttraumatic stress disorder in children who have been admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit and their families.

Data Sources: Studies were identified through PubMed, MEDLINE, and Ovid.

Study Selection: All descriptive, observational, and controlled studies with a focus on posttraumatic stress disorder and the pediatric intensive care unit were included.

Data Extraction and Data Synthesis: Posttraumatic stress disorder rates in children following admission to the pediatric intensive care unit were between 5% and 28%, while rates of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms were significantly higher, 35% to 62%. There have been inconsistencies noted across risk factors. Objective and subjective measurements of disease severity were intermittently positively associated with development of posttraumatic stress disorder. There was a positive relationship identified between the child’s symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder and their parents’ symptoms.

The biological mechanisms associated with the development of posttraumatic stress disorder in children admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit have yet to be explored. Studies in children following burn or other unintentional injury demonstrate potential relationships between adrenergic hormone levels and a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder. Likewise genetic studies suggest the importance of the adrenergic system in this pathway.

The rates of posttraumatic stress disorder in parents following their child’s admission to the pediatric intensive care unit ranged between 10.5% and 21%, with symptom rates approaching 84%. It has been suggested that mothers are at increased risk for the development of posttraumatic stress disorder compared to fathers. Objective and subjective measures of disease severity yielded mixed findings with regard to the development of posttraumatic stress disorder. Protective parental factors may include education or the opportunity to discuss the parents’ feelings during the admission.

Conclusions: Following admission to the pediatric intensive care unit, both children and their parents have high rates of trauma exposure, both personally and secondary exposure via other children and their families, and subsequently are reporting significant rates of posttraumatic stress disorder. To effectively treat our patients, we must recognize the signs of posttraumatic stress disorder and strive to mitigate the negative effects.

Author Information

From the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Department of Anesthesiology Critical Care Medicine, Los Angeles, CA.

The authors have not disclosed any potential conflicts of interest.

For information regarding this article, E-mail: lanelson@chla.usc.edu

©2012The Society of Critical Care Medicine and the World Federation of Pediatric Intensive and Critical Care Societies