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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Diagnosis

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

The symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can develop within anything from one month of when a traumatic event was experienced to up to months or years afterwards. Commonly, people with PTSD do not seek medical help until the condition has started to seriously impact on their day-to-day living.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, for a diagnosis of PTSD to be made, the following features or symptoms must be present:

  1. A history of exposure to a traumatic event where the person:
    1. Experienced, witnessed or was confronted with actual or threatened death or physical injury to self or others
    2. AND
    3. Experienced intense fear, horror or helplessness
  2. The event is repeatedly re-experienced in one or more of the following ways:
    1. Remembering the event with thoughts, images or perceptions
    2. Having nightmares or vivid dreams of the event
    3. Reliving the event through hallucinations, illusions or having flashbacks, including those experienced on waking up or while intoxicated
    4. Intense distress in response to any triggers that are reminiscent of the event
    5. Physical reactions such as sweating, palpitations, fear, dizziness or headaches in response to cues that trigger memories of the event
  3. Avoidance of cues associated with the traumatic event and numbing of emotional responses to cues through:
    1. Avoiding thoughts, feelings or conversations about the event
    2. Avoiding places, people and activities that raise memories of the event
    3. Failure to remember an important aspect of the event clearly
    4. Loss of interest in activities
    5. Feeling detached and isolated from others
    6. Restricted ability to feel affectionate
    7. Sense that lifetime will be prematurely shortened and therefore devoid of milestones such as marriage, children or career
  4. State of hyper arousal indicated by at least two of the following features:
    1. Insomnia or difficulty in remaining or falling asleep
    2. Irritability or angry outbursts
    3. Difficulty in concentrating
    4. Excessive vigilance
    5. Being startled easily
  5. The symptoms listed in sections B, C and D need to have persisted for over 1 month
  6. The symptoms need to be causing significant distress or impaired ability to function

The presence or absence of the symptoms described above is ascertained using patient questionnaires such as the Primary Care PTSD Screen.

Reviewed by , BSc

Further Reading

Last Updated: Oct 14, 2013

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