Study Links PTSD to Hospitalizations Using Urban Sample
> 3/31/2008 11:38:19 AM

Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder have been found more likely to use hospital services or be hospitalized, but most studies on this subject have used samples of veterans or the female victims of sexual assault. In a recent study from the Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center, a team of researchers sought to examine the health care needs associated with trauma and PTSD using a different group of people. In their study of primary care patients from a poor, urban setting, they found that PTSD was associated with more hospitalizations, longer hospitalizations, and greater use of mental health resources.

Through interviews with the 592 subjects, the researchers evaluated the overall rates of trauma, PTSD, and associated health problems, including depression, substance use, and chronic pain. Their results, which appear in the April issue of the journal Medical Care, illustrate that trauma can be a widespread experience within certain settings: 80 percent of the subjects had experienced at least on trauma, and the average number of traumas experienced by these patients was 2.7. Overall, 22 percent of the subjects had PTSD. Characteristics associated with trauma included being male and being unmarried, while females and those who made $20,000 or less each year were more likely to have PTSD. Depression and substance abuse were common among those who had experienced trauma as well as those with PTSD.

In the sample, PTSD was associated with greater use of mental health services, more hospitalizations, and longer hospitalizations. Individuals with PTSD were more than twice as likely to have been hospitalized during the previous year as those without the condition. In a somewhat surprising find, trauma alone was not associated with more or longer hospitalizations, although there was an association between trauma and more mental health visits. While the researchers cannot say for sure that PTSD caused or worsened the subjects' health problems, they do believe that the disorder may contribute to the use of healthcare services by different groups of people. As head researcher Dr. Jane Liebschutz explained in a press release:

"PTSD may be on the causal pathway between trauma experiences and negative health consequences. These findings are relevant in light of the PTSD prevalence not only in our returning veterans, but in areas of urban poor."

Urban settings provide many different sources of stress, and by studying individuals within this context, the researchers were able to investigate PTSD stemming from various traumas. Many had witnessed someone being killed or badly injured, others had been assaulted or threatened, and many others had been involved in serious accidents. Further research on PTSD in other groups of people might also provide insight into the factors that could put individuals at risk for PTSD or fuel symptoms of the disorder. Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial for helping these individuals and can prevent PTSD from becoming chronic. Greater awareness of the prevalence of trauma and PTSD among all people, not just veterans or the victims of sexual assault, will be beneficial for anyone seeking help and support after a traumatic experience.

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