• Diagnosis of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

    PTSD is categorized according to when symptoms occur and how long they last. There are three types of PTSD:
    • Acute—symptoms last between 1-3 months after the event
    • Chronic—symptoms last more than three months after the event
    • Delayed onset—symptoms don’t appear until at least six months after the event
    Diagnosis of PTSD is usually based on the following:

    Initial Assessment

    Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history. This could be done by a structured interview and/or questionnaire. You will be given a psychological assessment and asked about past trauma. PTSD will be diagnosed if you have the specified symptoms, they last for more than one month, and they result in both emotional distress and disturbed functioning (problems at school, work, and/or in family and peer relationships).
    Diagnosis is often based on the criteria outlined in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), which include the following:
    • Exposure to a traumatic event
    • Recurrent and intrusive distressing memories of the event
    • Repeated vivid and uncontrollable memories
    • Emotional numbness
    • Physical symptoms of fear triggered by cues in the environment or other physical sensations that dredge up the traumatic event
    • Interference with work, school, and/or relationships

    Evaluation for Substance Abuse

    Using and withdrawing from addictive substances can cause anxiety and other symptoms that resemble PTSD. Your doctor may ask about your use of alcohol and other drugs.

    Evaluation of Other Psychiatric Disorders

    Other psychiatric disorders often occur with or can be mistaken as PTSD. You may be tested for other psychiatric disorders, such as:


    American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/online/en/home.html .

    Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) . American Psychiatric Association; 2000.

    DynaMed Editors. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . Updated August 25, 2010. Accessed September 5, 2010.

    National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder website. Available at: http://www.ncptsd.va.gov .

    Stern, TA et al. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry . 1st ed. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier, 2008.

    Revision Information

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