Research paper|Articles in Press

Impact of hospitalisation on behavioural and physiological stress responses associated with cardiovascular risk in visiting family members

Published:November 09, 2022DOI:



      The hospitalisation of a patient in intensive care impacts the psychological health of family members, with a high prevalence of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress symptoms reported among families of critically ill patients. Understanding of the behavioural and physiological impact is limited and presents a new area of focus.


      The objective of this study was to evaluate behavioural and physiological stress responses of visiting family members following hospitalisation of their adult relative.


      Prospective longitudinal evaluation included 40 family members of adult patients with admission to intensive or coronary care in a large tertiary care metropolitan hospital. Assessments were conducted at three timepoints: in-hospital within 1 week of admission and 2 weeks and 3 months post discharge. Assessments included duration and quality of sleep (self-reported and actigraphy measured), physical activity, dietary and alcohol patterns, resting heart rate and blood pressure, and morning blood cortisol and lipid levels. Assessment of a reference group of 40 non-hospital-exposed control participants was also conducted.


      At the in-hospital assessment, study participants reported lower sleep time, altered 24-h physical activity patterns, reduced dietary and alcohol intake, and higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure than a nonhospitalised reference group. Compared to in-hospital assessment, these altered behavioural and physiological responses improved over time except for systolic blood pressures which remained unchanged at 3 months post family member discharge.


      Hospitalisation is associated with altered behavioural and physiological responses in family members. These findings contribute to understanding of the impact of unexpected hospitalisation on family members’ cardiovascular risk factors and provide insights into potential mechanisms for the proposed increased risk during this time. Elevated systolic blood pressure at 3 months post discharge suggests a prolonged cardiovascular stress response in many family members of critical care patients that requires further study, with a focus on contributing and potential modifiable factors.


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