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Can Medical Errors Cause PTSD?

Published on Jun 11, 2024 by Thomas Law Offices.

can medical errors cause PTSD

When you suffer negligence at the hands of a medical provider, obvious physical issues arise in the aftermath. Your illness is worse instead of better, or you have a new injury that you didn’t have before. The stress and frustration of your situation might feel overwhelming and unstoppable, and you may begin to feel symptoms of anxiety or depression.

This begs the question: Can medical errors cause PTSD?

Continue reading to find out more about the psychological damage that patients might face after suffering from medical negligence or malpractice.

What Is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is triggered by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Most people will experience trauma during their lives, but not all traumatic events cause PTSD. Signs, symptoms, and severity vary with each person and each situation and can become worse over time for some individuals, especially those who do not seek professional help.

Although exact numbers are difficult to narrow down, the National Center for PTSD estimates that 6% of the U.S. adult population will have PTSD at some point in their lives, even if the symptoms eventually go away after time. Approximately 13 million Americans had PTSD in 2020, and women are more likely to develop it than men, 8% and 4%, respectively.

Common Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms

Exposure to a disturbing chain of events may affect individuals differently. That being said, some of the more common symptoms associated with PTSD include:

Intrusive Memories

Examples of this symptom are:

  • Nightmares about the event
  • Recurrent and unwanted distressing memories of the event
  • Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the event
  • Flashbacks, or reliving, the event as if it were occurring again

Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood

This symptomology often manifests itself as:

  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Feeling detached from family and friends
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Negative thoughts about yourself, other people, or the world
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Memory problems, including not remembering details of the event
  • Difficulty experiencing positive emotions

Changes in Physical and Emotional Reactions

PTSD patients may display the following as signs of this:

  • Always being on guard for danger
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Irritability, angry outbursts, or aggressive behavior
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as excessive drinking


This symptom commonly associated with PTSD may lead to individuals:

  • Avoiding places, people, or activities that remind you of the event
  • Trying to not think about the event

Psychological Effects of Medical Malpractice

Medical errors are known to cause patients and their families to suffer physical, emotional, and financial hardships. Often, these hardships last for years after the initial event and can lead to lasting psychological ill-effects for the patients. However, few studies have been done on what exactly those effects are and how severely they impact patients’ lives.

In 2022, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) published interview data of 32 patients and family members who had suffered from a harmful medical event. 56% reported permanent harm, and the harmful medical event resulted in the death of 31%.

The harmful event occurred 5 to 9 years prior to the study for 69% of those interviewed and occurred 10+ years prior for 31%, and all of the participants reported multiple impacts that had affected their lives, with social/behavioral and psychological being the most reported.

According to that same study, psychological impacts affected 23 participants in the following ways:

  • Vivid memories: 53%
  • Anger: 50%
  • Loss of trust in healthcare: 50%
  • Self-blame: 38%
  • Psychological scars (depression, suicidal thoughts, paranoia, PTSD): 34%
  • Grief: 34%

Many people who experience traumatic events such as medical errors may have difficulty adjusting and coping. Reaching out for help from a licensed medical professional can be critical in reducing your symptoms and improving your overall function and life.

It’s clear that PTSD can affect anyone, and if you’ve suffered a medical error and are feeling or experiencing any of the previously mentioned symptoms, even years later, you are not alone. Our legal team at Thomas Law Offices has experience handling cases of medical malpractice and helping patients seek justice for the negligent actions of doctors and other medical professionals. We can also help you. So, call us to schedule a free consultation with our legal team.

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At Thomas Law Offices, our personal injury attorneys recognize that our potential clients are likely going through some of the most difficult times of their lives. We don't want you to have to worry about paying out of pocket for legal advice when you're just starting to learn your legal rights and options. That's why we provide free case evaluations. We'll offer our expert advice about your potential case and walk you through how we can help you.

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Meet Our Founder

Tad Thomas - Trial Lawyer

Tad Thomas

Managing Partner

Tad Thomas has dedicated his practice to representing plaintiffs in various types of civil litigation, including personal injury, business litigation, class actions, and multi-district litigation.

After graduating with his law degree in 2000 from Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University, Mr. Thomas immediately opened his own private practice and began representing injury victims.

In 2011, Thomas Law Offices was established in Louisville, Kentucky. Over the past decade, Mr. Thomas has expanded his firm and now has offices in three additional locations: Cincinnati, Ohio, Columbia, Missouri, and Chicago, Illinois. He is also a frequent lecturer on topics like trial skills and ethics and technology.

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