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Physiological reactivity in children of Oklahoma City bombing survivors 7 years postdisaster: A pilot study

Betty Pfefferbaum, MD, JD

Department of Psychiatry, and Behavioral Sciences, University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, Oklahoma City, OK, USA

Phebe Tucker, MD

Department of Psychiatry, and Behavioral Sciences, University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, Oklahoma City, OK, USA

Carol S. North, MD, MPE

North Texas VA Health Care System, Departments of Psychiatry and Surgery/Division of Emergency Medicine, University of Texas Southwestern, Medical Center, Dallas, TX, USA

Haekyung Jeon-Slaughter, PhD

Department of Psychiatry, and Behavioral Sciences, University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, Oklahoma City, OK, USA

BACKGROUND: Relatively few studies of children exposed to trauma have used objective indicators such as heart rate and blood pressure measurements to assess physiological reactivity.

METHODS: This pilot study examined physiological reactivity (heart rate, systolic blood pressure, and diastolic blood pressure) and emotional indicators (posttraumatic stress and depressive symptoms) in 17 children of directly exposed Oklahoma City bombing survivors and in 17 demographically matched community comparison children, 7 years after the incident.

RESULTS: Despite generally low levels of subjectively reported posttraumatic stress and depressive symptoms 7 years after the disaster, the children of survivors showed heightened objectively measured physiological reactivity relative to the comparison group. The extent to which this heightened physiological reactivity in the children of survivors was pathologic is unclear. Only 1 participant reported high levels of posttraumatic stress and depressive symptoms; this individual also demonstrated physiological reactivity.

CONCLUSIONS: Results suggest children of disaster survivors may experience physiological reactivity despite absence of direct exposure to the trauma or acknowledgement of symptoms. These findings indicate the physiological effects of trauma may endure separate from subjective affect in the offspring of highly exposed disaster survivors. More research is needed to determine the potential consequences of persistent physiological reactivity.

KEYWORDS: disaster, indirect trauma exposure, physiological reactivity, posttraumatic stress, terrorism, trauma, Oklahoma City bombing

ANNALS OF CLINICAL PSYCHIATRY 2011;23(3):202-207

CORRESPONDENCE: Betty Pfefferbaum, MD, JD Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, WP 3470, PO Box 26901, Oklahoma City, OK 73126 USA, E-MAIL: betty-pfefferbaum@ouhsc.edu
Annals of Clinical Psychiatry ©2011 Quadrant HealthCom Inc.

 
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