The experience of chronic illness and post-traumatic stress disorder: the consequences of cumulative adversity

Soc Sci Med. 2000 May;50(10):1475-84. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(99)00399-8.


In this paper the experiences of the chronically ill are examined to explore the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), accumulated burden of adversity and trauma spectrum disorder on subsequent illness and coping behaviors. Individuals experiencing chronic diseases have been studied with regard to depression, anxiety and a variety of coping maladaptions, but negligible attention has been given to the PTSD potential of chronic disease over the life course. Yet, growing evidence suggests that the traumatogenic potential of chronic diseases, some sudden and unexpected onsets, and the traumatogenic changes in life circumstance, may produce maladaptive illness coping over the life course. More importantly, attention needs to focus on the additive effect of co-morbid life events and the traumatic potential of invasive medical therapies. Consideration of PTSD and a continuum of cumulative adversity provide a more complex and fully drawn understanding of the circumstances surrounding chronic illness coping and reasons for maladaptive coping following invasive therapies and changes in the disease trajectory. The pathophysiology that produces a chronic diseases does not begin at symptom onset, and the psychosocial strategies to cope with a chronic illness, whether efficacious or maladaptive, also do not begin at symptom onset, but develops over the life course.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Chronic Disease / psychology*
  • Comorbidity
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*