Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

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:

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-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:

REFERENCES:

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). American Psychiatric Association; 2013.

Post-traumatic stress disorder. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/post-traumatic-stress-disorder. Updated June 2017. Accessed February 1, 2018.

Post-traumatic stress disorder. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml. Updated February 2016. Accessed February 1, 2018.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114915/Posttraumatic-stress-disorder-PTSD. Updated June 26, 2017. Accessed February 1, 2018.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/anxiety-and-stressor-related-disorders/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd. Updated May 2014. Accessed February 1, 2018.

PTSD basics. National Center for PTSD—US Department of Veterans Affairs. Available at: https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/basics/index.asp. Updated April 17, 2017. Accessed February 1, 2018.

Last reviewed December 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD  Last Updated: 12/20/2014