Acute stress and subsequent health outcomes: A systematic review

J Psychosom Res. 2018 Sep:112:107-113. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2018.05.017. Epub 2018 Jun 9.


Objective: To systematically review the relationship between acute posttraumatic stress symptoms (<1 month) and subsequent physical and mental health outcomes other than posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Methods: A systematic search of electronic databases (PubMed, PsycINFO, CINAHL, and Web of Science) was conducted to identify longitudinal studies examining the link between acute posttraumatic stress and physical and mental health. Inclusion criteria required assessment of acute posttraumatic stress (<1 month post-event) and at least one follow-up assessment of a physical or mental health outcome (not PTSD).

Results: 1,051 articles were screened; 22 met inclusion criteria. Fourteen studies examined physical health outcomes and 12 examined non-PTSD mental health outcomes. Early psychological responses to trauma were associated with a variety of short- (<1 year) and long- (≥1 year) term physical and mental health outcomes. Physical health outcomes included poor general physical health, increased pain and disability, lower quality of life, and higher risk of all-cause mortality. Significant psychological outcomes included more cumulative psychiatric disorders, depression, and anxiety. Significant psychosocial outcomes included increased family conflict.

Conclusions: Methodologically rigorous longitudinal studies support the utility of measuring acute psychological responses to traumatic events as they may be an important marker of preventable trauma-related morbidity and mortality that warrants long-term monitoring and/or early intervention.

Keywords: Acute stress; Mental health; Physical health; Psychological symptoms; Stress response; Trauma.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology