The Course of Traumatic Stress Reactions

Traumatic stress reactions to medical events are common in the initial period after an injury, a scary new diagnosis, or a difficult event. Research with pediatric injury, oncology, and intensive care patients has consistently shown very high percentages (often more than 80%) of children and parents reporting at least one severe acute traumatic stress reaction within the first month.

Not all of these reactions are impairing. For example, in the first few weeks after a difficult or frightening medical event, thinking a lot about what happened (even when the thoughts are distressing) may help the individual to process the experience and put it into perspective.

However, for some children and families, these reactions can be extremely distressing. And when they persist, traumatic stress reactions may become disruptive to a child's or parent’s everyday functioning and may warrant further attention.

It’s common to have some acute traumatic stress reactions, and these usually diminish with time and support. It’s time to get concerned when these reactions last more than a month, cause severe distress, or get in the way of the child getting back to normal activities.