Traumatic stress in parents of children admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit

Pediatr Crit Care Med. 2004 Nov;5(6):547-53. doi: 10.1097/01.PCC.0000137354.19807.44.


Objective: To measure the prevalence of parental acute stress disorder (ASD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and to examine the relationship between ASD symptoms and PTSD symptoms in parents of infants and children admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). To examine the correlation between parental perceptions of illness severity and objective measures. To assess the association among demographic, situational, and illness factors and the severity of ASD and PTSD.

Design: Prospective cohort study.

Setting: Thirty-eight bed PICU at an urban children's hospital.

Patients: The parents of 272 children admitted to the PICU for >48 hrs.

Interventions: ASD symptoms were assessed using the Acute Stress Disorder Scale during the child's admission. PTSD symptoms were assessed using the PTSD Checklist at least 2 months after discharge. The severity of illness was measured using the Pediatric Risk of Mortality (PRISM III) score.

Measurements and main results: Of the 272 parents completing the initial assessment, 87 (32%) met symptom criteria for ASD. Of the 161 parents completing follow-up, 33 (21%) met symptom criteria for PTSD. PTSD symptoms at follow-up were associated with ASD symptoms assessed in the PICU, unexpected admission, parent's degree of worry that the child might die, and the occurrence of another hospital admission or other traumatic event subsequent to the index admission. Neither ASD nor PTSD responses were associated with objective measures of a child's severity of illness (PRISM III score).

Conclusion: Traumatic stress symptoms are common among parents in the PICU and may persist long after discharge. There is strong support from these data for continued attention to supporting parents both during and after a child's PICU admission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Death
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Hospitalization
  • Hospitals, Urban
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intensive Care Units, Pediatric*
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • Stress Disorders, Traumatic, Acute / epidemiology*