Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – DSM5

Disclaimer: Use this information for reference only. Please do no self diagnose. You must see a doctor or a mental health professional to get proper diagnosis.


Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Diagnostic Criteria 309.81 (F43.10)

Note: The following criteria apply to adults, adolescents, and children older than 6 years. 

A. Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence in one (or more) of the following ways:

1. Directly experiencing the traumatic event(s).

2. Witnessing, in person, the event(s) as it occurred to others.

3. Learning that the traumatic event(s) occurred to a close family member or close friend. In cases of actual or threatened death of a family member or friend, the event(s) must have been violent or accidental.

4. Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event(s) (e.g., first responders collecting human remains: police officers repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse).

Note: Criterion A4 does not apply to exposure through electronic media, television, movies, or pictures, unless this exposure is work related.

B. Presence of one (or more) of the following intrusion symptoms associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning after the traumatic event(s) occurred:

1. Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event(s). Note:In children older than 6 years, repetitive play may occur in which themes or aspects of the traumatic event(s) are expressed.

2. Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content and/or affect of the dream are related to the traumatic event(s).Note: In children, there may be frightening dreams without recognizable content.

3. Dissociative reactions (e.g., flashbacks) in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic event(s) were recurring. (Such reactions may occur on a continuum, with the most extreme expression being a complete loss of awareness of present surroundings.)Note: In children, trauma-specific reenactment may occur in play.

4. Intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s).

5. Marked physiological reactions to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s).

C. Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning after the traumatic event(s) occurred, as evidenced by one or both of the following:

1. Avoidance of or efforts to avoid distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic event(s).

2. Avoidance of or efforts to avoid external reminders (people, places, conversations, activities, objects, situations) that arouse distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic event(s).

D. Negative alterations in cognitions and mood associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning or worsening after the traumatic event(s) occurred, as evidenced by two (or more) of the following:

1. Inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic event(s) (typically due to dissociative amnesia and not to other factors such as head injury, alcohol, or drugs).

2. 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,” “My whole nervous system is permanently ruined”).

3. Persistent, distorted cognitions about the cause or consequences of the traumatic event(s) that lead the individual to blame himself/herself or others.

4. Persistent negative emotional state (e.g., fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame).

5. Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities.

6. Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.

7. Persistent inability to experience positive emotions (e.g., inability to experience happiness, satisfaction, or loving feelings).

E. Marked alterations in arousal and reactivity associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning or worsening after the traumatic event(s) occurred, as evidenced by two (or more) of the following:

1. Irritable behavior and angry outbursts (with little or no provocation) typically expressed as verbal or physical aggression toward people or objects.

2. Reckless or self-destructive behavior.

3. Hypervigilance.

4. Exaggerated startle response.

5. Problems with concentration.

6. Sleep disturbance (e.g., difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep).

F. Duration of the disturbance (Criteria B, C, D, and E) is more than 1 month.

G. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

H. The disturbance is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., medication, alcohol) or another medical condition.

Specify whether: 

With dissociative symptoms: The individual’s symptoms meet the criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder, and in addition, in response to the stressor, the individual experiences persistent or recurrent symptoms of either of the following:

1. Depersonalization: Persistent or recurrent experiences of feeling detached from, and as if one were an outside observer of, one’s mental processes or body (e.g., feeling as though one were in a dream; feeling a sense of unreality of self or body or of time moving slowly).

2. Dereaiization: Persistent or recurrent experiences of unreality of surroundings (e.g., the world around the individual is experienced as unreal, dreamlike, distant, or distorted).

Note: To use this subtype, the dissociative symptoms must not be attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., blackouts, behavior during alcohol intoxication) or another medical condition (e.g., complex partial seizures).

Specify if:

With delayed expression: If the full diagnostic criteria are not met until at least 6 months after the event (although the onset and expression of some symptoms may be immediate).

Diagnostic Features

The essential feature of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the development of characteristic symptoms following exposure to one or more traumatic events. Emotional reactions to the traumatic event (e.g., fear, helplessness, horror) are no longer a part of Criterion A. The clinical presentation of PTSD varies. In some individuals, fear-based re- experiencing, emotional, and behavioral symptoms may predominate. In others, anhedonic or dysphoric mood states and negative cognitions may be most distressing. In some other individuals, arousal and reactive-externalizing symptoms are prominent, while in others, dissociative symptoms predominate. Finally, some individuals exhibit combinations of these symptom patterns.

The directly experienced traumatic events in Criterion A include, but are not limited to, exposure to war as a combatant or civilian, threatened or actual physical assault (e.g., physical attack, robbery, mugging, childhood physical abuse), threatened or actual sexual violence (e.g., forced sexual penetration, alcohol/drug-facilitated sexual penetration, abusive sexual contact, noncontact sexual abuse, sexual trafficking), being kidnapped, being taken hostage, terrorist attack, torture, incarceration as a prisoner of war, natural or human-made disasters, and severe motor vehicle accidents. For children, sexually violent events may include developmentally inappropriate sexual experiences without physical violence or injury. A life-threatening illness or debilitating medical condition is not necessarily considered a traumatic event. Medical incidents that qualify as traumatic events involve sudden, catastrophic events (e.g., waking during surgery, anaphylactic shock). Witnessed events include, but are not limited to, observing threatened or serious injury, unnatural death, physical or sexual abuse of another person due to violent assault, domestic violence, accident, war or disaster, or a medical catastrophe in one’s child (e.g., a life- threatening hemorrhage). Indirect exposure through learning about an event is limited to experiences affecting close relatives or friends and experiences that are violent or accidental (e.g., death due to natural causes does not qualify). Such events include violent personal assault, suicide, serious accident, and serious injury. The disorder may be especially severe or long-lasting when the stressor is interpersonal and intentional (e.g., torture, sexual violence).

The traumatic event can be reexperienced in various ways. Commonly, the individual has recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive recollections of the event (Criterion Bl). Intrusive recollections in PTSD are distinguished from depressive rumination in that they apply only to involuntary and intrusive distressing memories. The emphasis is on recurrent memories of the event that usually include sensory, emotional, or physiological behavioral components. A common reexperiencing symptom is distressing dreams that replay the event itself or that are representative or thematically related to the major threats involved in the traumatic event (Criterion B2). The individual may experience dissociative states that last from a few seconds to several hours or even days, during which components of the event are relived and the individual behaves as if the event were occurring at that moment (Criterion B3). Such events occur on a continuum from brief visual or other sensory intrusions about part of the traumatic event without loss of reality orientation, to complete loss of awareness of present surroundings. These episodes, often referred to as “flashbacks,” are typically brief but can be associated with prolonged distress and heightened arousal. For young children, reenactment of events related to trauma may appear in play or in dissociative states. Intense psychological distress (Criterion B4) or physiological reactivity (Criterion B5) often occurs when the individual is exposed to triggering events that resemble or symbolize an aspect of the traumatic event (e.g., windy days after a hurricane; seeing someone who resembles one’s perpetrator). The triggering cue could be a physical sensation (e.g., dizziness for survivors of head trauma; rapid heartbeat for a previously traumatized child), particularly for individuals with highly somatic presentations.

Stimuli associated with the trauma are persistently (e.g., always or almost always) avoided. The individual commonly makes deliberate efforts to avoid thoughts, memories, feelings, or talking about the traumatic event (e.g., utilizing distraction techniques to avoid internal reminders) (Criterion Cl) and to avoid activities, objects, situations, or people who arouse recollections of it (Criterion C2).

Negative alterations in cognitions or mood associated with the event begin or worsen after exposure to the event. These negative alterations can take various forms, including an inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic event; such amnesia is typically due to dissociative amnesia and is not due to head injury, alcohol, or drugs (Criterion Dl). Another form is persistent (i.e., always or almost always) and exaggerated negative expectations regarding important aspects of life applied to oneself, others, or the future (e.g., “I have always had bad judgment”; “People in authority can’t be trusted”) that may manifest as a negative change in perceived identity since the trauma (e.g., “I can’t trust anyone ever again”; Criterion D2). Individuals with PTSD may have persistent erroneous cognitions about the causes of the traumatic event that lead them to blame themselves or others (e.g., “It’s all my fault that my uncle abused me”) (Criterion D3). A persistent negative mood state (e.g., fear, horror, anger, guilt, shame) either began or worsened after exposure to the event (Criterion D4). The individual may experience markedly diminished interest or participation in previously enjoyed activities (Criterion D5), feeling detached or estranged from other people (Criterion D6), or a persistent inability to feel positive emotions (especially happiness, joy, satisfaction, or emotions associated with intimacy, tenderness, and sexuality) (Criterion D7).

Individuals with PTSD may be quick tempered and may even engage in aggressive verbal and/or physical behavior with little or no provocation (e.g., yelling at people, getting into fights, destroying objects) (Criterion El). They may also engage in reckless or selfdestructive behavior such as dangerous driving, excessive alcohol or drug use, or self- injurious or suicidal behavior (Criterion E2). PTSD is often characterized by a heightened sensitivity to potential threats, including those that are related to the traumatic experience (e.g., following a motor vehicle accident, being especially sensitive to the threat potentiallycaused by cars or trucks) and those not related to the traumatic event (e.g., being fearful of suffering a heart attack) (Criterion E3). Individuals with PTSD may be very reactive to unexpected stimuli, displaying a heightened startle response, or jumpiness, to loud noises or unexpected movements (e.g., jumping markedly in response to a telephone ringing) (Criterion E4). Concentration difficulties, including difficulty remembering daily events (e.g., forgetting one’s telephone number) or attending to focused tasks (e.g., following a conversation for a sustained period of time), are commonly reported (Criterion E5). Problems with sleep onset and maintenance are common and may be associated with nightmares and safety concerns or with generalized elevated arousal that interferes with adequate sleep (Criterion E6). Some individuals also experience persistent dissociative symptoms of detachment from their bodies (depersonalization) or the world around them (derealization); this is reflected in the ”with dissociative symptoms” specifier.

Associated Features Supporting Diagnosis

Developmental regression, such as loss of language in young children, may occur. Auditory pseudo-hallucinations, such as having the sensory experience of hearing one’s thoughts spoken in one or more different voices, as well as paranoid ideation, can be present. Following prolonged, repeated, and severe traumatic events (e.g., childhood abuse, torture), the individual may additionally experience difficulties in regulating emotions or maintaining stable interpersonal relationships, or dissociative symptoms. When the traumatic event produces violent death, symptoms of both problematic bereavement and PTSD may be present.


In the United States, projected lifetime risk for PTSD using DSM-IV criteria at age 75 years is 8.7%. Twelve-month prevalence among U.S. adults is about 3.5%. Lower estimates are seen in Europe and most Asian, African, and Latin American countries, clustering around 0.5%-L0%. Although different groups have different levels of exposure to traumatic events, the conditional probability of developing PTSD following a similar level of exposure may also vary across cultural groups. Rates of PTSD are higher among veterans and others whose vocation increases the risk of traumatic exposure (e.g., police, firefighters, emergency medical personnel). Highest rates (ranging from one-third to more than one- half of those exposed) are found among survivors of rape, military combat and captivity, and ethnically or politically motivated internment and genocide. The prevalence of PTSD may vary across development; children and adolescents, including preschool children, generally have displayed lower prevalence following exposure to serious traumatic events; however, this may be because previous criteria were insufficiently developmentally informed. The prevalence of full-threshold PTSD also appears to be lower among older adults compared with the general population; there is evidence that subthreshold presentations are more common than full PTSD in later life and that these symptoms are associated with substantial clinical impairment. Compared with U.S. non-Latino whites, higher rates of PTSD have been reported among U.S. Latinos, African Americans, and American Indians, and lower rates have been reported among Asian Americans, after adjustment for traumatic exposure and demographic variables.

Development and Course

PTSD can occur at any age, beginning after the first year of life. Symptoms usually begin within the first 3 months after the trauma, although there may be a delay of months, or even years, before criteria for the diagnosis are met. There is abundant evidence for what DSM-IV called “delayed onset” but is now called “delayed expression,” with the recognition that some symptoms typically appear immediately and that the delay is in meeting full criteria. 

Frequently, an individual’s reaction to a trauma initially meets criteria for acute stress disorder in the immediate aftermath of the trauma. The symptoms of PTSD and the relative predominance of different symptoms may vary over time. Duration of the symptoms also varies, with complete recovery within 3 months occurring in approximately one-half of adults, while some individuals remain symptomatic for longer than 12 months and sometimes for more than 50 years. Symptom recurrence and intensification may occur in response to reminders of the original trauma, ongoing life stressors, or newly experienced traumatic events. For older individuals, declining health, worsening cognitive functioning, and social isolation may exacerbate PTSD symptoms.

The clinical expression of reexperiencing can vary across development. Young children may report new onset of frightening dreams without content specific to the traumatic event. Before age 6 years (see criteria for preschool subtype), young children are more likely to express reexperiencing symptoms through play that refers directly or symbolically to the trauma. They may not manifest fearful reactions at the time of the exposure or during reexperiencing. Parents may report a wide range of emotional or behavioral changes in young children. Children may focus on imagined interventions in their play or storytelling. In addition to avoidance, children may become preoccupied with reminders. Because of young children’s limitations in expressing thoughts or labeling emotions, negative alterations in mood or cognition tend to involve primarily mood changes. Children may experience cooccurring traumas (e.g., physical abuse, witnessing domestic violence) and in chronic circumstances may not be able to identify onset of symptomatology. Avoidant behavior may be associated with restricted play or exploratory behavior in young children; reduced participation in new activities in school-age children; or reluctance to pursue developmental opportunities in adolescents (e.g., dating, driving). Older children and adolescents may judge themselves as cowardly. Adolescents may harbor beliefs of being changed in ways that make them socially undesirable and estrange them from peers (e.g., ‘”Now I’ll never fit in”) and lose aspirations for the future. Irritable or aggressive behavior in children and adolescents can interfere with peer relationships and school behavior. Reckless behavior may lead to accidental injury to self or others, thrill-seeking, or high-risk behaviors. Individuals who continue to experience PTSD into older adulthood may express fewer symptoms of hyperarousal, avoidance, and negative cognitions and mood compared with younger adults with PTSD, although adults exposed to traumatic events during later life may display more avoidance, hyperarousal, sleep problems, and crying spells than do younger adults exposed to the same traumatic events. In older individuals, the disorder is associated with negative health perceptions, primary care utilization, and suicidal ideation.


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the handbook used by health care professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders. DSM contains descriptions, symptoms, and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders. It provides a common language for clinicians to communicate about their patients and establishes consistent and reliable diagnoses that can be used in the research of mental disorders. It also provides a common language for researchers to study the criteria for potential future revisions and to aid in the development of medications and other interventions.