Screening for posttraumatic stress disorder in VA primary care patients with depression symptoms

Martha S. Gerrity, Kathryn Corson, Steven K. Dobscha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Unrecognized posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common and may be an important factor in treatment-resistant depression. Brief screens for PTSD have not been evaluated for patients with depression. OBJECTIVE: The objective was to evaluate a 4-item screen for PTSD in patients with depression. DESIGN: Baseline data from a depression study were used to evaluate sensitivity, specificity, and likelihood ratios (LRs) using the PTSD checklist (PCL-17) as the reference standard. SUBJECTS: Subjects are 398 depressed patients seen in Veterans Affairs (VA) primary care clinics. MEASURES: The Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) for depression, PCL-17, and 4-item screen for PTSD were used. RESULTS: Patients had a mean PHQ score of 14.8 (SD 3.7). Using a conservative PCL-17 cut point "(>50)", the prevalence of PTSD was 37%. PCL-17 scores were strongly associated with PHQ scores (r=0.59, P<0.001). Among the 342 (86%) patients endorsing trauma, a score of 0 on the remaining 3 symptom items had a LR=0.21, score of 1 a LR=.62, score of 2 a LR=1.36, and score of 3 a LR=4.38. CONCLUSIONS: Most depressed VA primary care patients report a history of trauma, and one third may have comorbid PTSD. Our 4-item screen has useful LRs for scores of 0 and 3. Modifying item rating options may improve screening characteristics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1321-1324
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2007


  • Depression
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Primary care
  • Screening
  • Veterans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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