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J Nerv Ment Dis. 1999 Jul;187(7):420-8.

Is posttraumatic stress disorder underdiagnosed in routine clinical settings?

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Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Brown University School of Medicine, Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, USA.


The goal of the present study was to examine whether posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is underrecognized in routine clinical practice. One thousand patients were evaluated at the Rhode Island Hospital Department of Psychiatry outpatient practice. The first 500 patients completed a psychiatric diagnostic screening questionnaire that included a PTSD subscale. The next 500 individuals were interviewed with the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID). In the first 500 patients, 36 (7.2%) patients were diagnosed by their clinicians with PTSD and an additional 18.6% of the sample screened positive on the questionnaire but were not diagnosed with PTSD. The patients who were diagnosed with PTSD and the patients who screened positive but were not given the diagnosis were significantly younger, had lower GAF scores, and less frequently graduated from college than the non-PTSD group. The frequency of suicidal thoughts was identical in the two PTSD groups and twice as high as the frequency in the non-PTSD group. Scores on 9 of the other 12 psychopathology dimensions assessed by the screening questionnaire were significantly higher in the two PTSD groups than the non-PTSD group. In the 500 patients interviewed with the SCID the prevalence of PTSD was two times higher than in the 500 patients diagnosed with an unstructured clinical interview (14.4% vs. 7.2%). The difference in prevalence rates of PTSD between the SCID and clinical samples was significant when considering PTSD as an additional diagnosis; there was no difference in prevalence rates when restricting the analysis to principal diagnoses. The results of this study suggest that PTSD is frequently overlooked in routine clinical practice when symptoms of PTSD are not the presenting complaint.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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