The course, prediction, and treatment of acute and posttraumatic stress in trauma patients: A systematic review

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

Trauma patients suffer from acute stress disorder (ASD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but it is unknown how these disorders develop over time and when treatment is effective. Our aim was to systematically review (1) the course and predictors of ASD and PTSD after trauma and (2) which and when psychological treatments are effective.

METHODS

Embase, Medline, Web of Science, Scopus, PsycInfo, Cinahl, Cochrane, PubMed, and Google Scholar were searched up to September 14, 2015. Quality was assessed with STROBE and CONSORT checklists.

RESULTS

Overall, 45 (68%) observational studies and 21 (32%) intervention studies were included. Forty-seven (85%) were of lower (level of evidence (LoE) 3) or poor quality (LoE 4). ASD was found during hospitalization (range 1–37%) and about 30% experienced PTSD 1 month after trauma (LoE 3). The onset of PTSD was within 3 months but also up to 12 months after trauma (LoE 3). Especially in patients with ASD, patients showed PTSD symptoms after 6 years (LoE 3). ASD and PTSD were associated with sociodemographic factors (e.g., being female, younger age, financial problems, and low income), reduced cognitive functioning, and physical (e.g., pain), social (e.g., low social support), and psychological problems (e.g., hyperarousal) or disorders (e.g., ASD). Early treatment in the first weeks after trauma can be preventive for PTSD, but effective treatment for ASD is still unclear. Compared to other psychological treatments, the most effective and examined treatment for PTSD was cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

CONCLUSIONS

A large number of studies of lower or poor quality present inconsistent findings on the course of ASD and PTSD. Predictors for ASD and PTSD were identified. Early treatment can be preventive for PTSD, as CBT is the most effective treatment. However, good qualitative observational and intervention studies are lacking and needed.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE

Systematic review, level III.

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