OBJECTIVE: Few studies have focused on the natural course of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and its determinants in samples of the general population. The authors examined determinants of remission and chronicity of PTSD and associations with other disorders in a prospective community sample.
METHOD: The data were drawn from a prospective, longitudinal epidemiological study of adolescents and young adults (age 14-24 years) in Munich, Germany (N=2,548). The course of PTSD from baseline to follow-up 34-50 months later was studied in 125 respondents with DSM-IV PTSD or subthreshold PTSD at baseline.
RESULTS: Although 52% of the PTSD cases remitted during the follow-up period, 48% showed no significant remission of PTSD symptoms. Respondents with a chronic course were more likely to experience new traumatic event(s) during follow-up (odds ratio=5.21, 95% confidence interval [CI]=1.95-13.92), to have higher rates of avoidant symptoms at baseline (odds ratio=10.16, 95% CI=1.73-59.51), and to report more help seeking (odds ratio=5.50, 95% CI=1.04-29.05), compared to respondents with remission. Rates of incident somatoform disorder (odds ratio=4.24, 95% CI=1.60-11.19) and other anxiety disorders (odds ratio=4.07, 95% CI=1.15-14.37) were also significantly associated with a chronic course.
CONCLUSIONS: PTSD is often a persistent and chronic disorder. Specific symptom clusters--especially avoidant symptoms--might be associated with the course of PTSD. In addition, the occurrence of new traumatic events differentiates PTSD cases with a chronic course from those with remission.