Risk Factors and Diagnosis of PTSD

Eileen Bailey Health Guide

    The exact cause of post-traumatic stress disorder is not known, however, there are a number of risk factors that increase your chance of developing PTSD.


    PTSD most often develops in adults; however, people of any age can have PTSD. Research indicates that up to 8 percent of the population in the United States have symptoms of PTSD at some time in their life.


    Women are diagnosed with PTSD four times more often than men. This may be because women are victims of violence more often than men. It is also common in soldiers that have served in combat. Sometime PTSD may be referred to as "shell shock" or "battle fatigue."

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    Factors that Increase Risk of Developing PTSD

    There are many different types of traumatic events that can increase the risk of developing PTSD:

    • Natural Disasters
    • Fire
    • Auto/Plane/Train accidents
    • Assault
    • Terrorist attack
    • Torture
    • Other events that may threaten physical health or well being

    In women, interpersonal violence that can increase the risk of developing PTSD can include rape, sexual molestation, childhood abuse, or being attacked or threatened with a weapon.


    In men, some common traumatic events that may lead to PTSD can include being in combat, rape or childhood abuse.


    Many people that experience these types of events do not develop PTSD. Those with pre-existing mental health conditions, such as depression, may be at higher risk of developing PTSD.  In addition, the following may also increase your risk:

    • Having experienced abuse (sexual or physical) or neglect as a child.
    • Experiencing a long lasting traumatic event.
    • Experiencing an extremely severe traumatic event.
    • Having relatives with PTSD.

    It is important to have a good support system. Being able to rely on friends and relatives during trying and traumatic events can help to lower your risk of developing PTSD.


    How is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Diagnosed?

    PTSD is normally diagnosed based on a description of symptoms. A physician or mental health provider may ask you a number of questions regarding your symptoms. He or she will need to know what your symptoms are, how often you are experiencing symptoms, how long they last and when they most often occur. You may also be asked about the event that may have caused the PTSD.


    Your doctor may also perform a complete physical examination to determine if there is any physical condition that may be causing your symptoms.


    According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) lists specific criteria for diagnosing PTSD:

    • You must have either experienced or witnessed an event that included actual or threatened death or serious injury and you must have reacted to the even with intense fear, helplessness or horror.
    • You have recurrent thoughts, recollections, flashbacks or dreams that cause you to act or feel as if the traumatic event was occurring again.
    • You experience severe psychological distress when reminded of the event by either internal or external cues.
    • You may persistently avoid thoughts, conversations, activities, places or people that may remind you of the event.
    • You may feel emotionally detached or estranged from other people
    • You may have an inability to recall details of the event.
    • You may have a decreased interest in activities you once enjoyed
    • You may have an increased startle response, experience difficulty concentrating, have outbursts of anger or have difficulty falling or staying asleep.
    • Symptoms have lasted more than one month and must cause significant distress in social occupational or other significant areas of life.

    The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association and provides diagnostic criteria for all mental illnesses. Mental health professionals, medical doctors and insurance companies as a standard determination for mental illness, use it.


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    For further information:

    What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?


    Best Treatment Practices for PTSD Deemed "Uncertain"


    What Does PTSD Mean to You?




    "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)", Reviewed 2009, Sept 17, National Institute of Mental Health


    "Posttraumatic Stress Disorder", Date Unknown, Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, M.D., Medicinenet.com



Published On: September 21, 2009