Medical traumatic stress in cystic fibrosis: A qualitative analysis

Addison A. Cuneo, Simon Outram, Meghan L. Marsac, Siena Vendlinski, Melvin B. Heyman, Ngoc Ly, Emily von Scheven, Emily R. Perito

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: People living with cystic fibrosis (PwCF) face a lifetime of potentially traumatic illness-related experiences that can lead to posttraumatic stress symptoms. Existing criteria for this type of posttraumatic stress, called medical traumatic stress (MTS), may not fully capture the CF experience. In this study we aimed to explore: 1) illness-related experiences perceived as traumatic in the setting of CF, 2) perceived MTS symptoms in PwCF, and 3) perceived health-related functional impairments from MTS. Methods: Informed by our aims, we developed and piloted guides for semi-structured interviews and focus groups with PwCF, family members of PwCF, and CF medical providers. We then conducted a series of interviews and focus groups. The qualitative analytical process followed Deterding and Waters’ three stages of flexible coding for in-depth interviews, generating key themes and sub-themes in each domain of study inquiry. Results: We recruited 51 participants, including 24 PwCF, 7 family members of PwCF, and 20 CF care team members. Illness-related experiences perceived as traumatic were often characterized by themes of loss of agency, threats of bodily harm, and shifts in identity. Prominent MTS symptoms included shame, survivor guilt, burden guilt, germaphobia, and symptom panic. Health-related themes of functional impairments perceived to result from MTS included poor adherence and strained relationships between providers and patients/families. Conclusions: This is the first study to explore the specific experiences of MTS in PwCF. It highlights the need for screening that includes these specific exposure types and symptoms, which may be mitigatable with medical trauma-focused interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)763-771
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Cystic Fibrosis
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022


  • Chronic illness
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Iatrogenic trauma
  • Medical traumatic stress
  • Trauma-informed medical care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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