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Both children and parents are at risk for posttraumatic stress disorder following childhood traffic injuries

Traffic injury remains the leading health threat to children in the United States, resulting in nearly 1 million injuries each year. Even children with minor injuries following a traffic accident are at risk for developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, PTSD is a common but often overlooked result of a childhood traffic injury in both children and their parents, according to a study supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS09058).

Physicians treating children for traffic-related injuries, even minor injuries, should screen the children and their parents for PTSD and refer them for treatment when appropriate, recommends the study's principal investigator Flaura K. Winston, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Director of TraumaLink at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The researchers conducted telephone interviews with parents from 102 families in which children suffered traffic-related injuries. The interviews were conducted 7 to 12 months after the incident, and parents were asked about their and their children's reactions to the incident.

Older children, as well as those whose parents developed PTSD, were most likely to develop PTSD after an accident. In contrast, parents were more likely to have PTSD after the incident if their child was younger, if their child developed PTSD, or if the parent witnessed the incident in which their child was injured. Overall, 25 percent of the children and 15 percent of the parents suffered PTSD. Only 46 percent of the parents of affected children sought help of any kind for their child, and only 20 percent sought help for themselves.

PTSD is a psychological reaction that sometimes occurs in response to a traumatic event. It can include problems such as relentless disturbing thoughts, images, or memories of the crash, feeling jumpy or extra watchful for signs of danger, and having trouble concentrating, eating, or sleeping. Help is needed when these symptoms become severe and lengthy and impair daily functioning.

More details are in "Looking beyond the physical injury: Posttraumatic stress disorder in children and parents after pediatric traffic injury," by Aiko P. de Vries, Nancy Kassam-Adams, Ph.D., Avital Cnaan, Ph.D., and others, in the December 1999 Pediatrics 104(6), pp. 1293-1299.

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