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Intra-operative awareness in children and post-traumatic stress disorder

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Published in Anaesthesia. 2008, vol. 63, no. 5, p. 474-81
Abstract Adults who experience intra-operative awareness can develop disturbing long-lasting after-effects, such as daytime anxiety, sleep disturbances, nightmares, flashbacks and, in the worst case, a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is unknown whether intra-operative awareness has a similar psychological impact in children. We designed the present study in order to evaluate the incidence of psychological symptoms in children who had either confirmed or possible intra-operative awareness. Attempts were made to locate 11 children who had been identified in a previous study, approximately 1 year following their experience. A PTSD questionnaire was administered to the children and their parents in order to detect any long-term or short-term psychological symptoms (the 1-month postoperative data were evaluated retrospectively). Factors believed to be associated with PTSD, such as intra-operative perceptions, the children's temperament and cognitive strategies, and the parents' coping strategies, were also analysed. Seven children were successfully located and interviewed and no short or long-term psychological symptoms were identified. None of them offered negative appraisals of the traumatic event and none had displayed dysfunctional behaviour or cognitive strategies. Thus, none of them had developed a PTSD syndrome. In contrast with what has been reported in adults, these children claimed not to have experienced major pain, terror or helplessness during their surgery. Despite the small sample size, the results of the present study suggest that children suffer less psychological sequelae than adults following intra-operative awareness. This may be due to the fact that the children reported less frightening intra-operative sensations as compared with the adults, and had less understanding of the anaesthesia procedure, and this may have influenced their appraisal of their awareness and protected them from the full impact of this potentially traumatic experience.
Keywords Adaptation, PsychologicalAdolescentAnesthesia, GeneralAwarenessChildDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental DisordersFemaleFollow-Up StudiesHumansIntraoperative PeriodMaleParents/psychologyPostoperative Complications/psychologyPsychometricsStress Disorders, Post-Traumatic/etiology/psychologyTemperament
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PMID: 18412644
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