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Psychotic Symptoms in Combat-Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

J Clin Psychiatry 1999;60(1):29-32
10.4088/JCP.v60n0106

Background: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is known often to be comorbid with other anxiety, mood, and substance use disorders. Psychotic symptoms have also been noted in PTSD and have been reported to be more common in Hispanic veterans. However, the occurrence of psychotic symptoms, including the degree to which they are accounted for by comorbid disorders, have received limited systematic investigation. Our study objectives were to assess psychotic symptoms according to DSM-III-R criteria in patients with a primary diagnosis of combat-related PTSD and determine the associations of those symptoms with psychiatric comorbidity and ethnicity.

Method: Fifty-three male combat veterans consecutively admitted to a PTSD rehabilitation unit were assessed for psychotic symptoms and Axis I disorders. Ninety-one percent were Vietnam veterans; 72% were white, 17% were Hispanic, and 11% were black. Associations between psychotic symptoms and comorbid depression, substance use disorders, and minority status were compared by chi-square analyses; associations between psychotic symptoms and both PTSD and dissociative symptom severity were compared by t test analysis.

Results: Forty percent of patients reported a psychotic symptom or symptoms in the preceding 6 months. These symptoms featured auditory hallucinations in all but 1 case. The psychotic symptoms typically reflected combat-themes and guilt, were nonbizarre, and were not usually associated with formal thought disorder or flat or inappropriate affect. Psychotic symptoms were significantly associated with current major depression (p < .02), but not with alcohol or drug abuse or with self-rated PTSD and dissociation severity. Psychotic symptoms and current major depression were more common in minority (black and Hispanic) than white veterans (p < .002).

Conclusion: Psychotic symptoms can be a feature of combat-related PTSD and appear to be associated with major depression. The association with minority status may be a function of comorbidity.