By: 15 August 2014
No evidence of long-term PTSD risk in patients with awareness during surgery

Patients who have experienced episodes of awareness during anaesthesia and surgery are not at increased risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other problems with psychosocial well-being, according to the results of a long-term follow-up study published in Anesthesia & Analgesia.

The study included nine patients with a documented episode of intra-operative awareness during general anaesthesia. All patients had ‘definite awareness with recall’, and were able to accurately describe events that had occurred during their surgery. Patients were evaluated on average 17 years after their episode of intra-operative awareness, using a variety of tests for psychosocial well-being, including formal diagnostic interviews for PTSD, as well as anxiety, depression and other psychiatric disorders.

The results showed no significant difference in psychosocial outcomes for patients with, versus those without, intra-operative awareness. In particular, none of the patients with intra-operative awareness were diagnosed with PTSD. A few patients in each group had depression or other psychiatric disorders.

Although the findings are reassuring, they do not rule out the risk of PTSD after an episode of awareness during surgery, and further studies have been called for to understand which procedures or patients are associated with a higher risk of intra-operative awareness and PTSD, to facilitate early recognition and prompt treatment.

Laukkala, T., Ranta, S., Wennervita, J., et al. (2014) Long-term psychosocial outcomes after intra-operative awareness with recall. Anesth. Analg. 119(1), 86–92