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Recurrence of post-traumatic stress disorder: systematic review of definitions, prevalence and predictors

Publication date: 

9 Jan 2024


Brooks, S.K., Greenberg, N. Recurrence of post-traumatic stress disorder: systematic review of definitions, prevalence and predictors. BMC Psychiatry 24, 37 (2024).


Brooks, S.K., Greenberg, N.

Publication type: 



Many people will experience a potentially traumatic event in their lifetime and a minority will go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A wealth of literature explores different trajectories of PTSD, focusing mostly on resilient, chronic, recovered and delayed-onset trajectories. Less is known about other potential trajectories such as recurring episodes of PTSD after initial recovery, and to date there has been no estimate of what percentage of those who initially recover from PTSD later go on to experience a recurrence. This systematic review aimed to synthesise existing literature to identify (i) how ‘recurrence’ of PTSD is defined in the literature; (ii) the prevalence of recurrent episodes of PTSD; and (iii) factors associated with recurrence. Methods A literature search of five electronic databases identified primary, quantitative studies relevant to the research aims. Reference lists of studies meeting pre-defined inclusion criteria were also hand-searched. Relevant data were extracted systematically from the included studies and results are reported narratively. Results Searches identified 5,398 studies, and 35 were deemed relevant to the aims of the review. Results showed there is little consensus in the terminology or definitions used to refer to recurrence of PTSD. Because recurrence was defined and measured in different ways across the literature, and prevalence rates were reported in numerous different ways, it was not possible to perform meta-analysis to estimate the prevalence of recurrence. We also found no consistent evidence regarding predictors of PTSD recurrence. Conclusion A clear and consistent evidence-based definition of recurrence is urgently needed before the prevalence and predictors of recurrence can be truly understood.