Objective: We conducted a systematic review of the literature to explore the longitudinal course of PTSD in DSM-5-defined trauma exposed populations to identify the course of illness and recovery for individuals and populations experiencing PTSD.
Methods: We reviewed the published literature from January 1, 1998 to December 31, 2010 for longitudinal studies of directly exposed trauma populations in order to: (1) review rates of PTSD in the first year after a traumatic event; (2) examine potential types of proposed DSM-5 direct trauma exposure (intentional and non-intentional); and (3) identify the clinical course of PTSD (early onset, later onset, chronicity, remission, and resilience). Of the 2537 identified articles, 58 articles representing 35 unique subject populations met the proposed DSM-5 criteria for experiencing a traumatic event, and assessed PTSD at two or more time points within 12 months of the traumatic event.
Results: The mean prevalence of PTSD across all studies decreases from 28.8% (range =3.1-87.5%) at 1 month to 17.0% (range =0.6-43.8%) at 12 months. However, when traumatic events are classified into intentional and non-intentional, the median prevalences trend down for the non-intentional trauma exposed populations, while the median prevalences in the intentional trauma category steadily increase from 11.8% to 23.3%. Across five studies with sufficient data, 37.1% of those exposed to intentional trauma develop PTSD. Among those with PTSD, about one third (34.8%) remit after 3 months. Nearly 40% of those with PTSD (39.1%) have a chronic course, and only a very small fraction (3.5%) of new PTSD cases appears after three months.
Conclusions: Understanding the trajectories of PTSD over time, and how it may vary by type of traumatic event (intentional vs. non-intentional) will assist public health planning and treatment.