Although symptoms such as fatigue, headache and pain in bones and muscles are common after disasters, risk factors for these symptoms among disaster survivors have rarely been studied. We examined predisposing, precipitating and perpetuating factors for these physical symptoms among survivors of a man-made disaster. In addition, we examined whether risk factors for physical symptoms differ between survivors and controls.
Survivors completed a questionnaire 3 weeks (n=1567), 18 months and 4 years after the disaster. Symptoms and risk factors were measured using validated questionnaires. A comparison group was included at waves 2 and 3 (n=821). Random coefficient analysis (RCA) was used to study risk factors for symptoms.
Female gender [beta (beta)=1.0, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.6-1.4], immigrant status (beta=1.0, 95% CI 0.6-1.4) and pre-disaster psychological problems (beta=0.8, 95% CI 0.1-1.4) were predisposing factors for symptoms. Although disaster-related factors were predictors, the relationship between symptoms and disaster-related factors was not very strong and the magnitude of this association was reduced when perpetuating factors were added. Intrusions and avoidance, depression, anxiety and sleeping problems were important perpetuating factors for physical symptoms among survivors and mediated the association between traumatic stress and physical symptoms. Risk factors for symptoms were comparable between survivors and controls.
The results indicate that health-care workers should be alert for physical symptoms among female survivors, immigrant survivors and individuals with a high level of psychological problems both before and after a disaster.