Background: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common, disabling condition with many diverse symptoms including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and body pain. These symptoms are likely to be helped by treatment with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM); however, PTSD is not yet a recognized disorder (bing ming) in Chinese medicine. In preparation for a phase II clinical trial comparing TCM and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) treatment of PTSD symptoms, a TCM diagnostic pattern framework for persons who meet the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) definition of PTSD was sought.
Methods: Three approaches were used to identify the most likely TCM pattern differentiations for PTSD: an English-language TCM textbook review on the conditions "depression," "anxiety," and "insomnia"; a survey of 20 experienced practitioners of TCM; and TCM assessments of 21 individuals affected by PTSD. Two TCM practitioners synthesized the information into a list of pattern differentiations.
Results: The most likely pattern differentiations for PTSD were Heart Shen disturbance caused by Heat, Fire, or a constitutional deficiency; Liver Qi stagnation; and Kidney deficiency. Secondary patterns identified were outcomes of long-term Liver Qi stagnation-Liver overacting on Spleen/Stomach, Liver Fire, Phlegm Fire, Phlegm-Damp, and Heart Fire-and constitutional deficiencies in the Heart, Kidney, and Spleen organ systems.
Conclusions: The use of extant literature, expert knowledge, and clinical TCM diagnoses contributed to the development of a TCM diagnostic structure for PTSD. The results can inform the clinical practice of TCM. The method can be used to guide research design involving different diagnostic systems.