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Stress affects healing of burns

A burn is not only an injury on the outside: it also involves great mental stress, which impacts healing. In her dissertation to be defended at Uppsala University on April 14, Aili Low has examined how things turned out for burn patients after their injury. The work was carried out within the framework of an internationally unique rehabilitation program at Uppsala Akademiska Hospital.

Even though few people suffer burns in Sweden, about 16 per 10,000 inhabitants, burn treatment occupies a unique position in health care. First, a major burn is one of the worst injuries a person can suffer and still survive. Second, burns require long, difficult, and expensive treatment. It is therefore especially important not to focus only on the acute phase of treatment but also to see to it that things work out for patients when they return to their everyday lives after being released from the hospital.

In her dissertation, she describes the results of various studies targeting how things went for burn patients after their injury and identifying different factors that can influence the process. The studies take up the occurrence of itching, nightmares, and chronic stress following burns, but also how psychiatric problems before the injury can impact the patient’s perceived health status after the injury.

“We found that not only the size of the injury, but also the patient’s personality and how the individual copes with the event can affect the occurrence of itching and nightmares after the injury,” says Aili Low.

The occurrence of frequent nightmares often was clearly related to chronic stress, which means that the occurrence of nightmares can be used as a so-called screening question for stress following injury. When it comes to psychiatric problems prior to the burn, they affect how patients perceived their own health one year after the burn.

“Increased awareness and knowledge of the connections between mental factors and the occurrence of problems following burns should lead to improved treatment, rehabilitation, and life adaptation of burn patients,” says Aili Low.

Uppsala is one of three places in the world with a comprehensive rehabilitation program for burn patients. The others are in the U.S. and the Netherlands. The Swedish program is statistically the most extensive: participation comprises 70 percent of patients.

Anneli Waara | alfa
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