Delayed psychiatric symptoms common in motor vehicle accident survivors

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Last Updated: 2001-08-02 15:14:52 EDT (Reuters Health)

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Individuals who survive a motor vehicle accident may experience new onset of certain psychiatric disorders as long as 1 year after the crash, study findings show.

One third of 773 individuals involved in a road accident as a driver, bicycle rider or pedestrian were experiencing some level of anxiety, depression, fear of travel or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 3 to 12 months later. In some patients, symptoms worsened or appeared for the first time about 3 months after the accident.

The findings, published in the August issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, point to the need for early recognition and treatment of psychiatric problems in accident survivors, Dr. Richard Mayou, from the University of Oxford in the UK, and colleagues conclude.

The study involved patients 17 to 69 years old who were brought to a hospital emergency department following a motor vehicle accident. Patients were interviewed during their initial visit and again 3 and 12 months later.

In most cases, psychiatric symptoms surfaced during the 3 months after the accident and persisted. After 1 year, about half of the group reported phobic travel anxiety. Nearly 60% reported general anxiety, and half were diagnosed with PTSD.

Men, who were more often the drivers, were more likely than women to blame themselves for the accident. Women were more likely to report emotional problems in the month before the accident, and they reported more fear after the accident.

While the findings highlight the need for doctors to watch for symptoms of certain psychiatric disorders in accident survivors, they should not be generalized, Dr. Mayou and colleagues caution. They note that the data were obtained through patient self-reports and that women and individuals older than 30 were over-represented in the study.

Am J Psychiatry 2001;158:1231-1238.

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