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What is trauma?

Trauma is a response to a stressful event, such as sickness, acute injury, intense pain, or abuse. Patients may also experience trauma before, during, or after a medical procedure or treatment.

Trauma often leads to physical responses such as increased heart rate and high blood pressure. Emotional responses to trauma include fear, anxiety, and a sense of feeling unstable. Responses to trauma can be acute or chronic and may change over time.

Common medical events that may lead to trauma include receiving a serious diagnosis, complications during surgery, and being hospitalized in an emergency setting. Trauma often occurs during childhood due to the increased perceived intensity of any stressful experience.

Why is trauma important in healthcare?

Traumatic experiences are not enjoyable and cause the patient to experience suffering. As such, minimizing trauma should be a goal for healthcare professionals seeking to provide the best care for their patients.

Recognizing that trauma often occurs allows healthcare professionals to better empathize with their patients. Trauma considerations can, and often should, influence a healthcare professional’s treatment plan depending on the characteristics of the patient.

A trauma-informed treatment plan has the potential to get better treatment results while simultaneously improving the patient’s well-being at every step of the process. Asking questions to determine what traumatic responses a patient may have, and explaining why these types of questions are being asked, is an essential part of trauma-informed care. During a medical treatment or procedure, healthcare professionals can further improve a patient’s well-being by taking the time to adapt their processes based on what makes the patient feel most comfortable.