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Posttraumatic stress disorder in children: Epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, course, assessment, and diagnosis

Author
Katie McLaughlin, PhD
Section Editor
David Brent, MD
Deputy Editor
Richard Hermann, MD

INTRODUCTION

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating and often chronic mental disorder that develops in some children and adolescents following exposure to a traumatic event. Traumatic events are experiences that involve serious harm or threat of harm to oneself or others, such as exposure to interpersonal violence, accidents, natural disasters, and injuries.

A majority of children and adolescents will experience a traumatic event by the time they reach adulthood, both in the United States and internationally. Although trauma exposure is common, only a minority of children who experience a traumatic event develop PTSD. PTSD is defined by four symptom clusters: intrusion, avoidance, negative alterations in cognition and mood, and hyperarousal [1]. The consequences of PTSD include elevated risk for other mental disorders and suicide, substantial impairment in role functioning, reduced social and economic opportunity, and earlier onset of chronic diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease.

The epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, course, assessment, and diagnosis of PTSD in children are discussed here. Pharmacotherapy and psychosocial interventions for PTSD in children are discussed separately, as is PTSD in adults. (See "Psychosocial treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder in children and adolescents" and "Posttraumatic stress disorder in adults: Epidemiology, pathophysiology, clinical manifestations, course, assessment, and diagnosis" and "Dissociative aspects of posttraumatic stress disorder: Epidemiology, clinical manifestations, assessment, and diagnosis" and "Psychotherapy for posttraumatic stress disorder in adults" and "Pharmacotherapy for posttraumatic stress disorder in adults".)

EPIDEMIOLOGY

Trauma exposure — Studies have found high but varying rates internationally in the proportion of children and adolescents experiencing a traumatic event before the age of 18 [2,3]. As examples:

A United States nationwide study of over 6000 adolescents reported that 62 percent of youths experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime, including interpersonal violence, serious accidents or injuries, natural disaster, and death of a loved one; 19 percent have experienced three or more such events.

                   

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Literature review current through: Nov 2016. | This topic last updated: Thu Aug 11 00:00:00 GMT+00:00 2016.
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