, Volume 46, Issue 9, pp 863-870
Date: 29 Jun 2010

Delayed-onset PTSD among war veterans: the role of life events throughout the life cycle

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Abstract

Background

The underlying mechanisms of delayed-onset PTSD are yet to be understood. This study examines the role of stressful life events throughout the life cycle in delayed-onset PTSD following combat.

Methods

675 Israeli veterans from the 1982 Lebanon War, 369 with antecedent combat stress reaction (CSR) and 306 without CSR were assessed prospectively, 1, 2 and 20 years after the war. Veterans were divided into four groups, according to the time of first PTSD onset (first onset at 1983, 1984, and 2002 and no PTSD onset). They were assessed for post-, peri- and pre-traumatic life events, as well as military and socio-demographic characteristics.

Results

Our findings indicate that shorter delays in PTSD onset were associated with a higher risk for CSR, a higher number of pre- and post-war life events, more severe subjective battle exposure, greater perceived danger during combat and a more stressful military position. CSR was found to be the most powerful predictor of PTSD onset. A recency effect was also found, with more recent life events proving to be stronger predictors of PTSD onset.

Conclusions

First, our findings validate the existence of delayed-onset PTSD, as it was found among a substantial number of participants (16.5%). Second, post-, peri- and pre-traumatic life events are associated with the time of PTSD onset. Thus, practitioners and researchers are encouraged to examine not only the original trauma, but also the stressful experiences throughout the survivors’ life cycle. In particular, identification of antecedent CSR may help mental help professionals in targeting high-risk populations.