PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Medically reviewed by Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS

PTSD diagnosis

In order to diagnose15 PTSD, your healthcare provider will likely begin by asking about your signs and symptoms. They may also perform a physical exam to rule out other health conditions that may be causing your symptoms. A primary healthcare provider will likely refer you to a specialist, such as a psychiatrist.

A specialist will likely consult the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders16 (DSM-5, published by the American Psychiatric Association) when diagnosing a disorder like PTSD.

Some diagnostic criteria17 used to provide a diagnosis of PTSD in children, teens, and adults over the age of six include:

Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violation:

  • Directly experiencing the traumatic events
  • Witnessing, in person, the traumatic events
  • Learning that the traumatic events occurred to a close family member or close friend; cases of actual or threatened death must have been violent or accidental
  • Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic events (Examples are first responders collecting human remains; police officers repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse). Note: This does not apply to exposure through electronic media, television, movies, or pictures, unless exposure is work-related.

The presence of one or more of the following:

  • Spontaneous or cued recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic events (Note: In children, repetitive play may occur in which themes or aspects of the traumatic events are expressed.)
  • Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content or affect (i.e. feeling) of the dream is related to the events (Note: In children, there may be frightening dreams without recognizable content.)
  • Flashbacks or other dissociative reactions in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic events are recurring (Note: In children, trauma-specific reenactment may occur in play.)
  • Intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic events
  • Physiological reactions to reminders of the traumatic events

Persistent avoidance of distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic events or external reminders (such as people, places, conversations, activities, objects, or situations).

Two or more of the following:

  • Inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic events (not due to head injury, alcohol, or drugs)
  • Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted,” "The world is completely dangerous").
  • Persistent, distorted blame of self or others about the cause or consequences of the traumatic events
  • Persistent fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame
  • Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
  • Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
  • Persistent inability to experience positive emotions

Two or more of the following marked changes in arousal and reactivity:

  • Irritable or aggressive behavior
  • Reckless or self-destructive behavior
  • Hypervigilance
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Problems with concentration
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep

Also, clinically significant impairment or distress in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning not attributed to the direct physiological effects of medication, drugs, or alcohol or another medical condition, such as traumatic brain injury.


If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1–800–273–8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

You may also reach out to the Samaritans: Call or text (877) 870-HOPE (4673).

Disclaimer: The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.

References