Psychiatric Reaction of an Intensive Care Unit Survivor in the Context of Coronavirus Disease 2019

A Case Report

Lamyae Benzakour; Emmanouela Kakoraiti; Alexandre Perrin; Sara Cereghetti; Frédéric Assal


J Med Case Reports. 2022;16(263) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Background: The coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic has had a serious impact on global mental health, particularly in intensive care unit survivors. Given the lethal potential and unpredictability of coronavirus disease 2019, a high risk of posttraumatic stress disorder was identified in the beginning of the crisis. There are insufficient details in current literature and no official guidelines available for the treatment and follow-up of acute stress disorder and the prevention of posttraumatic stress disorder for intensive care unit survivors in the context of coronavirus disease 2019.

Case presentation: We hereby describe a 67-year-old Swiss patient presenting a psychiatric reaction in the context of coronavirus disease 2019. He was admitted to the intensive care unit due to severe acute respiratory distress syndrome from severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 and intubated for 13 days. Afterwards, there was a severe worsening of acute renal failure prompting hemodialysis, and he developed delirium. Psychiatric liaison was requested 4 days post-intubation because the patient presented residual symptoms of delirium, false memories about the real context of his medical care, and ideas of persecution toward medical caregivers. He suffered from a very strong peritraumatic reaction, then developed an acute stress disorder linked with his care on the intensive care unit. We looked for strategies to prevent progression from acute stress disorder to posttraumatic stress disorder. We proceeded to the following therapeutic interventions: intensive psychiatric follow-up, intensive care unit diary, and low-dose antipsychotic treatment. The aim of our psychotherapeutic approach was to allow him to increase his feeling of security and to cope with the reality of his traumatic experience. He showed clinical improvement in his mental state after 3 months, despite several predictive factors of evolution to post-intensive care unit posttraumatic stress disorder.

Conclusion: This case report illustrates how a delusional clinical presentation after intensive care in the context of coronavirus disease 2019 can hide psychotraumatic symptoms. It is important to highlight that the intensive care unit diary completed by the intensive care team and the follow-up by the psychiatric liaison team helped the patient reconstruct an appropriate and coherent account. Further studies are needed to determine the psychiatric effects of coronavirus disease 2019 and to assess early and appropriate psychiatric intervention for patients hospitalized for coronavirus disease 2019 to prevent posttraumatic stress disorder.