Posttraumatic Stress and Cognitive Processes in Patients with Burns

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: A severe burn is one of the most traumatic injuries a person can experience. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is relatively common after burns, and can be devastating for the individual’s possibilities for recovery. The principal aims were to gain knowledge regarding posttraumatic stress symptoms and cognitive processes after burn and to evaluate methods for assessing symptoms of PTSD up to one year after burn.The psychometric properties of a Swedish version of the Impact of Event Scale-Revised (IES-R) were examined. The results indicate that the IES-R is a valid screening instrument for measuring PTSD symptoms in patients with burns and it can be used during hospitalisation to identify resilient individuals.The pattern of PTSD symptoms over time was also investigated. Four distinct trajectories of PTSD symptoms were identified, i.e. four groups of patients with significantly different onsets and courses. The trajectories differed in the expected direction regarding several risk factors associated with PTSD symptoms.Several previously known risk factors for PTSD symptoms were also identified including burn severity, psychiatric history, previous life events, early psychological symptoms, neuroticism-related personality traits, avoidant coping and low social support. The risk factors correspond well with those reported in the international trauma literature, which strengthens the findings in this thesis.Finally, using the emotional Stroop task at one year post burn it was found that burn-specific attentional bias was common and associated with more previous life events, more perceived life threat, larger burns and higher levels of PTSD symptoms.In summary, there are individual differences in the development and course of PTSD symptoms after burn and attentional bias is a common cognitive phenomenon related to these symptoms. The findings also support the use of the IES-R as a screening instrument for PTSD symptoms in patients with burns. 

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