Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Post-traumatic stress disorder is diagnosed based on signs and symptoms and a thorough psychological evaluation. Your health care provider will likely ask you to describe your signs and symptoms and the event that led up to them. You may also have a physical exam to check for medical problems.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, you must meet criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association. This manual is used by mental health providers to diagnose mental conditions and by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.

DSM criteria for PTSD

Diagnosis of PTSD requires exposure to an event that involved or held the threat of death, violence or serious injury. Your exposure can happen in one or more of these ways:

  • You experienced the traumatic event
  • You witnessed, in person, the traumatic event
  • You learned someone close to you experienced or was threatened by the traumatic event
  • You are repeatedly exposed to graphic details of traumatic events (for example, if you are a first responder to the scene of traumatic events)

You experience one or more of the following signs or symptoms after the traumatic event:

  • You relive experiences of the traumatic event, such as having distressing images and memories.
  • You have upsetting dreams about the traumatic event.
  • You experience flashbacks as if you were experiencing the traumatic event again.
  • You experience ongoing or severe emotional distress or physical symptoms if something reminds you of the traumatic event.

In addition, for more than one month after the traumatic event you may:

  • Try to avoid situations or things that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Not remember important parts of the traumatic event
  • View yourself, others and the world in a negative way
  • Lose interest in activities you used to enjoy and feel detached from family and friends
  • Feel a sense of emotional numbness, feel irritable or have angry or violent outbursts
  • Engage in dangerous or self-destructive behavior
  • Feel as if you're constantly on guard or alert for signs of danger and startle easily
  • Have trouble sleeping or concentrating

Your symptoms cause significant distress in your life or interfere with your ability to go about your normal daily tasks.

For children younger than 6 years old, signs and symptoms may include:

  • Reenacting the traumatic event or aspects of the traumatic event through play
  • Frightening dreams that may or may not include aspects of the traumatic event
Apr. 15, 2014