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Crit Care Med. 2000 Jan;28(1):86-92.

Early psychological reactions to life-threatening injuries.

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  • 1Psychiatric Department, General Hospital, Aarau, Switzerland.



To assess the prevalence of posttraumatic stress symptoms and coping patterns in severely injured accident victims; to study correlations between injury severity and psychosocial variables and the presence of posttraumatic stress symptoms; and to analyze intensive care unit (ICU) personnel's global clinical appraisals in relation to patient characteristics.


A study of critically ill accident victims assessed within one month of the trauma.


ICU of the traumatology department at the University Hospital, Zurich.


121 consecutive patients with accidental injuries (mean Injury Severity Score, 21.8; mean Glasgow Coma Scale score, 14.4) admitted to the ICU between January 1996 and June 1997, aged 18-68 yrs. Patients with severe head injuries, attempted suicides, and victims of physical assault were excluded.


Extensive clinical interview, Impact of Event Scale, Clinician-Administered Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Scale, social support, life events, biographical protective and risk factors, Sense of Coherence questionnaire, Freiburg Questionnaire of Coping with Illness.


13.7 (SD, 6.8) days after the accident, 5 patients (4.1 %) met all criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder with the exception of the time criterion. A further 24 patients (19.9%) had subsyndromal posttraumatic stress disorder. Posttraumatic psychiatric symptomatology did not correlate with objective injury criteria, but rather with pretrauma variables (female gender, biographical risk and protective factors, life events), the patients' subjective appraisal of the severity and threat of the accident, their general attitude toward life ("sense of coherence"), and their current coping strategies. Surgeons' and nurses' global clinical appraisals did not correlate with injury severity or with the patients' coping strategies.


Trauma surgeons and ICU personnel should pay special attention to the strains and stressors their patients have been exposed to when recording case histories and to the level of their patients' psychosocial adaptation before the trauma.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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