The prevalence of PTSD among adult liver transplant recipients is about twice that of the general population and on par with other chronic diseases, results from a pilot study suggest.

Meg O'Meara of the University of Colorado Doug Brunk/MDedge News

Meg O'Meara

“Serving the emotional and mental health of these patients is just as important as [improving] liver function and their immunosuppression,” study author Meg O’Meara, NP, said in an interview at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.

Recent data suggests that patients who undergo significant medical events like solid organ transplantation face a risk of developing PTSD, but limited information exists regarding the psychological effects following adult liver transplantation, said Ms. O’Meara, a nurse practitioner in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of Colorado at Denver, Aurora. In an effort to determine the prevalence of and risk factors for PTSD in adult liver transplant recipients, she and her associates used the PCL-5 to screen 71 patients seen at the university’s posttransplant clinic from Dec. 1, 2017, to May 31, 2018. The PCL-5 is a validated 20-item questionnaire that corresponds to the DSM-5 symptom criteria for PTSD.

The researchers also collected clinical and demographic information including pretransplant disease severity, history of psychiatric disease, duration of transplant hospitalization, and need for rehospitalization. They used a multivariable regression model to evaluate associations between clinical and demographic variables and a positive screen for PTSD.

The median age of the 71 patients was 58 years; 61% were male. A preexisting diagnosis of depression was present in 25 patients (35%), their mean Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) score at time of transplant was 31, and their median time from transplant was 1,163 days. In all, nine patients (12.7%) tested positive for PTSD on the PCL-5, and all met criteria for a provisional diagnosis of PTSD based on the DSM-5 criteria. This prevalence is about two times higher than the prevalence of PTSD in the general population (6.7%), comparable with that reported for heart transplant recipients (10.8%) and coronary artery disease (9%), but lower than that reported for ICU patients (38%), HIV patients (35.3%), and in those with Crohn’s disease (19.1%).

On multivariable logistic regression, only three factors were found to be significantly associated with the development of PTSD: younger age at transplant (P = .019), history of depression (P = .008), and a history of PTSD (P less than .001). “What I found surprising was that the MELD score at the time of transplant and the number of readmissions or complications around the time of transplant were not predictive of PTSD,” Ms. O’Meara said.

One possible explanation for the finding of younger age being a predictor of PTSD, she continued, is that younger liver transplant patients may lack certain coping skills, compared with their older counterparts. “Maybe patients who have had more years to deal with their disease are more accepting of it and they learn how to use productive tools to manage it.”

In their abstract, the researchers acknowledged certain limitations of the study, including its cross-sectional design, small sample size, and lack of corresponding pretransplant data.

The researchers reported having no financial disclosures.

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