Patients who have survived a critical illness after staying in the intensive care unit (ICU) frequently report symptoms of anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or depression a few months to a year after discharge, according to a new U.K. study published in the open access journal Critical Care.

The findings show that former ICU patients who reported symptoms of depression, in particular, may be at greater risk of death. The researchers say that depression following ICU care may be a marker of declining health and that health care workers should consider this during follow-up appointments.

For the study, researchers from the University of Oxford in England looked at the incidence of psychological disorders in a group of 4,943 former ICU patients from U.K. hospitals.

The results show that 46 percent of patients reported symptoms of anxiety, 40 percent reported symptoms of depression and 22% reported symptoms of PTSD, while 18 percent of patients in the study reported having symptoms of all three mental health conditions.

“Psychological problems after being treated for a critical illness in the ICU are very common and often complex when they occur,” said Dr. Peter Watkinson, corresponding author of the paper. “When symptoms of one psychological disorder are present, there is a 65 percent chance they will co-occur with symptoms of another psychological disorder.”

To look for links between ICU treatment and psychological disorders, the researchers asked all of the participants who had received treatment in one of 26 ICUs to complete a questionnaire on their symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD three months after discharge from ICU, and again 12 months after discharge.

ICU treatment was between the years 2006 and 2013.

The researchers found that patients who reported symptoms of depression were 47 percent more likely to die from any cause (all-cause mortality) during the first two years after discharge from the ICU than those who did not report these symptoms.

“Our findings suggest that depression following care of a critical illness in the ICU may be a marker of declining health and clinicians should consider this when following up with former ICU patients,” said Watkinson.

The authors caution that the results can’t necessarily be generalized to other areas as the data was only collected from U.K.-based patients. In addition, the observational nature of the study and its reliance on self-reported data mean that it does not allow for conclusions about cause and effect between ICU care and symptoms of psychological disorders.

Source: BioMEd Central