Nearly 20 percent of people — or 1 in 5 — who go through low back fusion surgery develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, according to a new study.
While past studies have documented PTSD symptoms in trauma, cancer and organ transplant patients, the new study from the Oregon Health & Science University is among the first to monitor for PTSD symptoms in patients undergoing an elective medical procedure, according to Robert Hart, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon, professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation, and senior author of the study.
“It is maybe not surprising that significant surgical interventions have psychological as well as physical impacts,” he said. “I think it means that we in the medical community need to monitor for these effects in our patients and to manage them when they occur.”
According to the study, the strongest factor in determining whether someone suffered PTSD symptoms after the spine surgery was whether the patient had a prior psychiatric diagnosis — such as clinical depression or an anxiety disorder — before the surgery.
But some patients who had no pre-surgery diagnoses also suffered PTSD symptoms after the surgery, the study found.
The study involved 73 of Hart’s surgical patients who underwent lumbar spinal fusion surgery. This type of surgery involves a procedure in which two or more lumbar vertebrae in the back are fused together.
It usually includes implantation of metal screws and rods as part of the procedure.
The study results might offer guidance to surgeons, said Hart, who suggests that patients identified as being at higher risk for PTSD symptoms receive treatment before the surgery.
“At the end of the day, I hope this will make changes in the way we prepare people for surgery, to reduce these psychological impacts,” he said. “This is analogous to how we currently optimize patients’ physical condition before major surgery.”
The study was published in the journal Spine.