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Diagnosis of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is categorized according to when symptoms occur and how long they last. There are 3 types of PTSD:
- Acute—symptoms last between 1-3 months after the event
- Chronic—symptoms last more than 3 months after the event
- Delayed onset—symptoms don’t appear until at least 6 months after the event
Diagnosis of PTSD is usually based on the following:
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-5), 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:
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). American Psychiatric Association; 2013.
PTSD basics. National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder website. Available at: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/basics/index.asp. Accessed December 20, 2014.
Post-traumatic stress disorder. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder.html. Updated May 2010. Accessed December 20, 2014.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114915/Posttraumatic-stress-disorder-PTSD. Updated August 19, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2016.
Stern, TA et al. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier, 2008.
- Reviewer: Adrian Preda, MD
- Review Date: 12/2015
- Update Date: 12/20/2014