The two-factorial symptom structure of post-traumatic stress disorder: depression-avoidance and arousal-anxiety

Psychiatry Res. 1998 Nov 16;81(2):195-210. doi: 10.1016/s0165-1781(98)00094-8.


The first part of this study showed that the DSM-III-R symptom structure of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), i.e. criteria B (reexperience), C (avoidance-numbing), and D (arousal), and, consequently the diagnosis of PTSD, could not be validated in fire and car-accident victims. The aims of this study were to: (i) determine the factors as well as their structure in the symptoms of PTSD; and (ii) develop a new classification or typology of PTSD. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses and cluster analyses were employed to: (i) examine the factors in PTSD symptomatology; and (ii) find and validate adequate diagnostic criteria for PTSD. The Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI), PTSD Module, was used between 7 and 9 months after the traumatic event in a study group of 185 victims of two different traumatic events, i.e. 130 fire and 55 car-accident victims. Our findings support the existence of two factors, i.e. a first labeled 'depression-avoidance (DAV) dimension', as it contains items reminiscent of depression and avoidance, and a second labeled 'the anxiety-arousal (AA) dimension', as it contains symptoms reminiscent of anxiety and increased arousal. Cluster analysis yielded two clusters, i.e. a cluster of subjects with PTSD cases and another with non-cases. Our PTSD algorithm was significantly less restrictive than the DSM-III-R diagnosis of PTSD. There are only quantitative, but no qualitative, differences between the cluster analytically derived classes.

In conclusion: PTSD is not a well-delineated clinical entity, as there is a clinical continuum from PTSD non-cases to cases with less and more severe DAV and AA symptoms. It is more appropriate to express PTSD in terms of general severity of PTSD and severity of the DAV and AA dimensions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / psychology
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / diagnosis*
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Arousal*
  • Avoidance Learning*
  • Belgium
  • Depression / diagnosis*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Fires
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality Assessment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Psychometrics
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / classification
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology