The physician's role in Managing acute stress disorder

Michael G. Kavan, Gary N. Elsasser, Eugene J. Barone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Acute Strees disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis that may occur in patients within four weeks of a traumatic event. Features include anxiety, intense fear or helplessness, dissociative symptoms, reexperiencing the event, and avoidance behaviors. Persons with this disorder are at increased risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder. Other risk factors for posttraumatic stress disorder include current or family history of anxiety or mood disorders, a history of sexual or physical abuse, lower cognitive ability, engaging in excessive safety behaviors, and greater symptom severity one to two weeks after the trauma. Common reactions to trauma include physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. Persistent psychological distress that is severe enough to interfere with psychological or social functioning may warrant further evaluation and intervention. Patients experiencing acute stress disorder may benefit from psychological first aid, which includes ensuring the patient's safety; providing information about the event, stress reactions, and how to cope; offering practical assistance; and helping the patient to connect with social support and other services. Cognitive behavior therapy is effective in reducing symptoms and decreasing the future incidence of posttraumatic stress disorder. Critical Incident Stress Debriefing aims to mitigate emotional distress through sharing emotions about the traumatic event, providing education and tips on coping, and attempting to normalize reactions to trauma. However, this method may actually impede natural recovery by overwhelming victims. There is insufficient evidence to recommend the routine use of drugs in the treatment of acute stress disorder. Short-term pharmacologic intervention may be beneficial in relieving specific associated symptoms, such as pain, insomnia, and depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)643-649
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Family Physician
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Family Practice


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