Risk for PTSD symptom worsening during new PTSD treatment episode in a nationally representative sample of treatment-seeking U.S. veterans with subthreshold PTSD

J Psychiatr Res. 2022 Jul:151:304-310. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2022.04.040. Epub 2022 May 2.


Previous research has examined risk factors associated with poorer treatment outcomes for military Veterans with PTSD. However, work has not examined risk for symptom worsening among Veterans with subthreshold PTSD. The aim of this study was to examine demographic, psychiatric, physical health, and pre-treatment PTSD symptom clusters associated with clinically significant worsening of PTSD among a nationally representative sample of United States (U.S.) Veterans with subthreshold PTSD. Participants were Veterans (weighted N = 3162; unweighted N = 236) with subthreshold PTSD entering a new episode of treatment at U.S. Veterans Affairs PTSD specialty clinics during fiscal years 2018 and 2019. Data was collected as part of the Veterans Outcome Assessment, a yearly baseline and 3-month follow-up telephone survey. Analyses used weighted calculations to support the use of VOA data to draw inferences about all eligible Veterans, and binary logistic regression was used to examine risk factors for symptom worsening. Over 1/3 (37.7%) of Veterans with subthreshold PTSD experienced clinically significant symptom worsening from baseline to follow-up. Adjusted analyses revealed several risk factors for symptom worsening, including demographic (e.g., male sex, White race), psychiatric (personality and anxiety disorders), health care utilization (e.g., more primary care encounters in the previous year), physical health disability, and specific baseline PTSD symptom clusters (negative affect and anxious arousal). Findings suggest that Veterans with subthreshold symptoms seeking treatment for PTSD are at risk for symptom worsening, and highlight the importance of assessment, prevention, and treatment in targeting veterans with PTSD symptoms below the diagnostic threshold.

Keywords: PTSD; Subthreshold PTSD; Treatment utilization; Veteran.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / therapy
  • Symptom Flare Up
  • Syndrome
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Veterans*