Watch for Signs of 'Post-Terrorism Stress Disorder'. (Oklahoma City Survivors)

By Bates, Betsy | Clinical Psychiatry News, November 2001 | Go to article overview

Watch for Signs of 'Post-Terrorism Stress Disorder'. (Oklahoma City Survivors)


Bates, Betsy, Clinical Psychiatry News


Avoidance and numbing symptoms, which are relatively uncommon manifestations of post-traumatic stress disorder, singled out some of the most troubled survivors of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Olahoma City, according to a study of 182 adult survivors of the blast.

Findings from the study conducted by Washington University in St. Louis, along with a number of other recently published studies on the Olahoma City disaster, may shed light on what psychiatrists and primary care physicians can expect to see in the face of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacs.

Dr. Carol S. North and her associates reported that nearly half of 182 adult survivors of the Olahoma City blast were suffering one or more psychiatric diagnoses when they were interviewed approximately 6 months later. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder were most prominent.

Although her research focused on people directly exposed to the bombing, Dr. North said in an interview that the Sept. 11 attacs precipitated more profound responses in people further from the scene, including those who only watched media reports.

"Lessons we learned in Olahoma City are very applicable here," said the professor of psychiatry at the university.

One significant lesson is that PTSD may be very common in suvivors.

After the 1995 explosion, PTSD symptoms appeared in most survivors within a day, and they persisted, with more than a third of people interviewed an average of 6 months later still meeting diagnostic criteria for PTSD related to the bombing.

A much greater percentage of survivors suffered symptoms of PTSD even if they did not meet the full DSM-IV criteria for the disorder. Overall, 78% of survivors reported difficulty concentrating and 77% reported an exaggerated startle response. …

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