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Medical Trauma

We know that most people who experience a trauma recover and do well. However, some people do develop persistent traumatic stress reactions after a life-threatening illness, injury or life-altering diagnoses. Look for new materials on PTSD following a medical trauma every Friday in June 2020. 

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What is Medical Trauma?

Fact Sheet For Professionals

Medical trauma is defined as a set of psychological and physiological responses to pain, injury, serious illness, medical procedures and frightening treatment experiences.1

Medical trauma can be viewed as an acute onset of a disrupted physiological system in which the ongoing threat is internal (i.e., the body) and may be long-term or permanent (e.g., cancer treatment).2 This differs from an external trauma (e.g., car accident) where once the event ends, the external threat ends.

See the full fact sheet for information on:

  • What aspects of medical events might be psychologically distressing?
  • Medical events and PTSD
  • What are the symptoms of PTSD resulting from medical trauma?
  • How common is PTSD following medical trauma?
  • How can PTSD resulting from medical trauma be addressed?
View clinician fact sheet references.

Fact Sheet for Survivors

Medical trauma is emotional and physical responses to pain, injury, serious illness, medical procedures and frightening treatment experiences.

There are lots of different experiences related to illness, injury or medical treatment that can be difficult, uncomfortable or frightening.

See the full fact sheet for information on:
  • What kinds of medical experiences can cause trauma?
  • Signs you may be having a trauma response to a medical event
  • Signs you may have PTSD
  • How to cope with medical trauma

View survivor fact sheet references.

Research on Medical Trauma

Medical Trauma Research Brief

Read through curated articles on conceptual frameworks, assessment and intervention for medical trauma.

Podcast Episode: Clinical Considerations For Medical Trauma

In this new episode of ISTSS podcast Trauma Talk, co-hosts Dr. Melissa Zielinski and Dr. Anne Wagner talk to Dr. Sacha McBain, a psychologist and associate director of the Center for Trauma Prevention, Recovery, and Innovation at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Their conversation covers clinical considerations for medical trauma including how to start addressing medical traumatic stress at the individual, clinician and organizational levels.

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