Does Anaphylactic Shock Increase One's Risk of Developing PTSD?

Anaphylactic shock is a potentially deadly allergic reaction

Anaphylactic Shock Treatment
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A number of traumatic events can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as sexual assault, combat exposure, natural disasters and motor vehicle accidents, but the link between anaphylactic shock and PTSD is often overlooked.

Get the facts about how anaphylactic shock increases one's risk of developing PTSD with this review of both conditions.

What Is Anaphylactic Shock?

Anaphylactic shock (or anaphylaxis) is a severe allergic reaction that can be triggered by a number of different things, including bee stings, certain foods (such as peanuts) or medicines.

The allergic reaction often involves a number of symptoms, such as a rash or hives, facial swelling, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, nausea, vomiting and a runny nose.

In some cases, a person can also experience difficulties breathing due to the swelling of the throat. A severe case of anaphylaxis can result in death.

As you might expect, having such an intense allergic reaction may bring about feelings of panic, anxiety and fears of death in patients. Consequently, an anaphylactic shock could be considered a traumatic event that may lead to PTSD. In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, a person needs to experience an event that meets the following criteria:

  • The experience or witnessing of an event where there is the threat of death or serious injury. The event may also involve a threat to a person's physical well-being or the physical well-being of another person.
  • A response to the event that involves strong feelings of fear, helplessness or horror.

    Looking at the events that can unfold during an anaphylactic shock, there is no doubt that it can meet the criteria for a traumatic event that can lead to PTSD.

    Anaphylactic Shock and PTSD

    One study by researchers at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates and the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom examined PTSD symptoms among 94 people who have experienced anaphylaxis.

    They found that more than half of people who have experienced anaphylaxis reported high levels of PTSD symptoms, especially avoidance symptoms. In addition, about one-tenth of people had symptoms severe enough that they would probably meet criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. As well as PTSD, the people in this study said that they suffered from other physical problems, in addition to anxiety, social problems, and depression, at a higher rate than people who hadn't experienced anaphylactic shock did.

    Where to Get Help

    You can learn more about the effects of anaphylactic shock from consulting a health care professional, reading books about the condition or consulting online resources. In addition, although PTSD from anaphylaxis hasn't really been studied extensively, the treatment for such PTSD would likely be the same as treatment for PTSD from other types of traumatic events.

    In particular, exposure therapy, especially that which involves exposure to physical symptoms associated with anaphylactic shock, may be helpful in reducing avoidance behaviors and intrusive thoughts about the anaphylactic shock.

    However, some avoidance behaviors are healthy among people who've experienced anaphylactic shock. If peanuts caused the allergic reaction, for example, it is perfectly acceptable for the patient to avoid peanuts or products packaged in facilities with peanut dust in the future. 


    Chung, M.C., Walsh, A., & Dennis, I. (in press). Trauma exposure characteristics, past traumatic life events, coping strategies, posttraumatic stress disorder, and psychiatric comorbidity among people with anaphylactic shock experience. Comprehensive Psychiatry.

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