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ICU Stay Linked to Persistent Depressive Symptoms

ICU Stay Linked to Persistent Depressive Symptoms

New research suggests that almost one in three people discharged from hospital intensive care units (ICUs) has clinically important and persistent symptoms of depression.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins performed a meta-analysis that combined similar studies to review more that 4,000 patients. They discovered the depression symptoms can last for a year or more.

Notably, the risk of developing depression symptoms is more likely in people with a history of psychological distress before an ICU stay.

The prevalence of depressive symptoms in this population, described in the the journal Critical Care Medicine, is three to four times that of the general population, said study coauthor O. Joseph Bienvenu, M.D., Ph.D.

“Not only can people with depression have slower physical recovery, but they also experience financial strain because they often cannot return to work and their caregivers must stay home with them,” Bienvenu said.

Psychological symptoms occurring before an ICU stay and psychological distress experienced during the ICU stay or hospitalization were risk factors most associated with depressive symptoms after hospital discharge, the review found.

“It’s very clear that ICU survivors have physical, cognitive and psychological problems that greatly impair their reintegration into society, return to work, and being able to take on previous roles in life,” said senior study author Dale Needham, M.D.

“If patients are talking about the ICU being stressful, or they’re having unusual memories or feeling down in the dumps, we should take that seriously. Health care providers, family members, and caregivers should pay attention to those symptoms and make sure they’re not glossed over,” he said.

More than five million patients in the United States are admitted to ICUs each year, he says.

For the study, the investigators searched five electronic databases to look for studies of depression after ICU stays that were conducted from 1970 through March 13, 2015. Studies included in this research evaluated survivors older than 16 and assessed for depressive symptoms after hospital discharge.

Ultimately, the investigators focused on 42 reports composed of 4,113 patients, who were assessed for depressive symptoms generally between one and 12 months after ICU discharge.

The studies included male and female patients of varying ages; 14 studies were conducted in the United Kingdom, and 10 in the United States.

The most common measurement of depressive symptoms (in 22 of the studies) was the depression subscale of the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS-D), a questionnaire that researchers commonly use to assess anxiety and depression.

The depression subscale determines the level of depressive symptoms a person is experiencing based on a zero to 21 score, with a score of zero to seven being normal, eight to 10 being mild, and 11 or greater being moderate to severe.

The prevalence of depressive symptoms across all studies ranged from four percent to 64 percent. Researchers discovered at least mild depressive symptoms, among 29 percent of individuals two to three months following discharge. Then, 34 percent with depression symptoms six months after discharge and 29 percent 12-14 months after discharge.

Seventeen percent of individuals expressed moderate to severe depressive symptoms two to three months following discharge, 17 percent six months after discharge and 13 percent 12 to 14 months after discharge.

Needham and the team say there was no significant change in prevalence of depressive symptoms during the first 12 months after discharge, indicating persistence of symptoms during this time period.

Psychological symptoms that existed before ICU stay were strongly associated with depressive symptoms after ICU discharge.

Additional conditions such as the presence of psychological distress symptoms experienced in the ICU or hospital — including anger, nervousness, and acute stress symptoms, such as emotional detachment or flashbacks — were also linked to post-discharge depression.

By contrast, patient age, severity of illness, ICU or hospital length of stay, and duration of sedation were not associated with depressive symptoms. Depressive symptoms were correlated with greater anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and with worse quality of life.

Physical rehabilitation after hospital discharge was assessed in three of the studies reviewed and found to be potentially beneficial. Use of an ICU diary, assessed in two studies, was not associated with significant reduction in depressive symptoms, nor was a nurse-led ICU follow-up clinic, assessed in one study.

“Identifying patients with pre-existing psychological comorbidity and psychological distress symptoms in the hospital may help maximize identification of depression and early intervention efforts,” said lead author Anahita Rabiee, M.D.

“And, given the strong relationship of depression with anxiety and PTSD symptoms after critical illness, patients who screen positive for depression should be evaluated for a full spectrum of psychological symptoms.”

The study does have limitations; researchers caution that depressive symptoms were assessed using questionnaires in all but two studies, most of which have not been rigorously evaluated for their performance in ICU survivors.

Another limitation of the study was substantial statistical inconsistency or heterogeneity. Therefore, the existing data do not clarify whether depressive symptoms are the result of critical illness, or if post-ICU depressive symptoms mainly reflect illness before ICU admission or are a result of hospitalization.

Source: Johns Hopkins/EurekAlert

ICU Stay Linked to Persistent Depressive Symptoms

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). ICU Stay Linked to Persistent Depressive Symptoms. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 16 Aug 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.