Investigating risk factors for psychological morbidity three months after intensive care: a prospective cohort study

Crit Care. 2012 Oct 15;16(5):R192. doi: 10.1186/cc11677.


Introduction: There is growing evidence of poor mental health and quality of life among survivors of intensive care. However, it is not yet clear to what extent the trauma of life-threatening illness, associated drugs and treatments, or patients' psychological reactions during intensive care contribute to poor psychosocial outcomes. Our aim was to investigate the relative contributions of a broader set of risk factors and outcomes than had previously been considered in a single study.

Methods: A prospective cohort study of 157 mixed-diagnosis highest acuity patients was conducted in a large general intensive care unit (ICU). Data on four groups of risk factors (clinical, acute psychological, socio-demographic and chronic health) were collected during ICU admissions. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and quality of life were assessed using validated questionnaires at three months (n = 100). Multivariable analysis was used.

Results: At follow-up, 55% of patients had psychological morbidity: 27.1% (95% CI: 18.3%, 35.9%) had probable PTSD; 46.3% (95% CI: 36.5%, 56.1%) probable depression, and 44.4% (95% CI: 34.6%, 54.2%) anxiety. The strongest clinical risk factor for PTSD was longer duration of sedation (regression coefficient = 0.69 points (95% CI: 0.12, 1.27) per day, scale = 0 to 51). There was a strong association between depression at three months and receiving benzodiazepines in the ICU (mean difference between groups = 6.73 points (95% CI: 1.42, 12.06), scale = 0 to 60). Use of inotropes or vasopressors was correlated with anxiety, and corticosteroids with better physical quality of life.

Conclusions: Strikingly high rates of psychological morbidity were found in this cohort of intensive care survivors. The study's key finding was that acute psychological reactions in the ICU were the strongest modifiable risk factors for developing mental illness in the future. The observation that use of different ICU drugs correlated with different psychological outcomes merits further investigation. These findings suggest that psychological interventions, along with pharmacological modifications, could help reduce poor outcomes, including PTSD, after intensive care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / diagnosis
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Critical Care / psychology*
  • Critical Care / trends
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / etiology
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units* / trends
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / etiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Morbidity
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors