Post-traumatic stress disorder can be predicted in hospitalized blunt trauma patients using a simple screening tool

Trauma Surg Acute Care Open. 2021 Mar 23;6(1):e000623. doi: 10.1136/tsaco-2020-000623. eCollection 2021.


Background: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has debilitating psychiatric and medical consequences. The purpose of this study was to identify whether PTSD diagnosis and PTSD symptom scale score (PTSD severity) could be predicted by assessing peritraumatic experiences using a single question or screening tools at different time points in patients hospitalized after admission to the hospital after significant physical trauma, but with stable vitals (level II trauma).

Methods: Patients completed the 'initial question' and the National Stressful Events Survey Acute Stress Disorder Scale (NSESSS) at 3 days to 5 days after trauma (NSESSS-1). The same scale was administered 2 weeks to 4 weeks after trauma (NSESSS-2). The Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms Scale Interview for DSM-5 (PSSI-5) was administered 2 months after trauma. PTSD diagnosis and PTSD severity were extracted from the PSSI-5. Linear multivariate regression analyses were used to establish whether scores for NSESSS-1 or NSESSS-2 predicted PTSD diagnosis/PTSD severity. Non-linear multivariate regression analyses were performed to better understand the relationship between NSESSS-1/NSESSS-2 and PTSD diagnosis/PTSD severity.

Results: A single question assessing the experience of fear, helplessness, or horror was not an effective tool for determining the diagnosis of PTSD (p=0.114) but can be a predictor of PTSD severity (p=0.039). We demonstrate that administering the NSESSS after either 3 days to 5 days (p=0.008, p<0.001) or 2 weeks to 4 weeks (p=0.039; p<0.001) can predict the diagnosis of PTSD and PTSD severity. Scoring an NSESSS above 14/28 (50%) increases the chance of experiencing a higher PTSD severity substantially and linearly.

Discussion: Our initial question was not an effective predictor of PTSD diagnosis. However, using the NSESSS at both 3 days to 5 days and 2 weeks to 4 weeks after trauma is an effective method for predicting PTSD diagnosis and PTSD severity. Additionally, we show that patients who score higher than 14 on the NSESSS for acute stress symptoms may need closer follow-up.

Level of evidence: Level III, prognostic.

Keywords: accidents; diagnosis; mental disorders; post-traumatic; stress disorders.