The relationship between exposure to disasters and subsequent unexplained physical health has an interesting relationship with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Physical health problems often occur alongside a diagnosis of PTSD (e.g. Wolfe et al; 1999) and it has been proposed that PTSD has a mediating (Schnurr & Green, 2004) or moderating (Van de Berg et al 2005) role between exposure to a traumatic event and subsequent physical health symptoms
Slottja et al (2008) investigated the physical health symptoms of 194 fire-fighters and police officers who had been exposed to the 1992 Amsterdam air disaster. They compared the symptoms of the exposed workers with their non-exposed colleagues and found that those who had been exposed to the disaster experienced somatic symptoms significantly more frequently. However, overall the rate of PTSD in the exposed workers was only 4.6%, and no relationship was found between frequency of physical symptoms and a diagnosis of PTSD. PTSD did not appear to play either a mediating or moderating role in the relationship between exposure to a traumatic event and physical heaith problems.
The implication of this study for the field of personal injury is related to those attending with unexplained physical syrnptoms following an index trauma. This study indicates that PTSD is likely to explain only a small proportion of posttrauma physical symptoms. For those presenting with unexplained physical symptoms, the careful assessment of other psychological symptoms is required
References: Schnurr, P.P. & Green, B.L. (2004) Trauma and Health. Physical Consequences of Exposure to Extreme Stress. Washington: America} Psychological Association
Van De Berg, B.) Grievink, L. , Yzermans, J., & Lebretl E. (2005). Medica!ly unexplained physical syrnptoms in the aftermath of disasters. Epidemiological Reviews, 27, 92-10
Wolfe J., Procter, S.P., Erickson, D.J., I-leeren, T. , Friedman, M.d. Huang, MT. et al. 1999. Relationship of psychiatric status to Gulf War veterans’ health problems. Psychosomatic Medicine, 61 (4), 532-540