PTSD, PTS, PTSS, CPTSD: How To Know the Difference

In 2021, it seems every month is dedicated to some kind of awareness. And the list of what we need to be aware of keeps growing. 

Rather than being overwhelmed by the continuous awareness of all topics relating to humanity, we invite you to spend a few minutes scratching the surface of issues that closely hit home with our U.S. Elite family.

Our team's own internal conversation inspired this topic, and we felt it was information that needed sharing beyond our Zoom room.

Awareness of those around you is like having an awareness of what you eat. The more you know, the better choices you can make. Or in this case, the more empathy you can show toward your fellow brothers and sisters.

First hearing or reading the acronyms PTSD, PTS, PTSS, and CPTSD, might feel like what started as a significant cause now has become a guessing game. However, essential nuances between each acronym exist.

While we can't promise more of these new nuances won't crop up over time, we can give you a simplified explanation of how to understand PTSD, PTS, PTSS, and CPTSD in 2021.

So, is it PTSD or PTS? Or neither? Or both?

Our team's conversation boiled down to this question. The D or not the D? To understand this, we got to know the history of the acronym.

While some in the 1980s were concerned with getting their hands on a cabbage patch doll, others were concerned with becoming diagnosed with PTSD by the American Psychiatric Association. 

PTSD went by many names before becoming classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. There have been cases of what we now call PTSD as far back as the civil war. But for it to be qualified to receive help within the coverage of one's health care, it needed to become an official anxiety disorder.

This new name, post-traumatic stress disorder, created a new problem. While funding and help were now available, it came with a label. Gone were the days of shell shock and battle fatigue. Instead, to receive much needed support, a soldier must wear the label of "mental disorder." It feels right up there with Schizophrenia and other dreaded mental illnesses.

While today it is still called PTSD in the diagnosis, many reputable figures such as George W. Bush fight to have the acronym officially changed to PTS. Bush states, "PTS is an injury. It's not a disorder." 

Ultimately, the goal is to destigmatize the condition to alleviate soldiers from wearing any damaging labels and recover from trauma.


Being diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD means the patient seen or gone through a formidable event is likely to suffer future trauma. Trauma can include nightmares, avoidance of situations that feel similar to the triggering event, anxiety, depression, and unwanted memories.

While it's obvious to see how veterans can suffer PTSD in situations most of us would never want to imagine, it can be suffered by civilians and children as well.

The lasting effects of PTSD vary between each person. Thankfully, due to increased awareness of PTSD, more treatment options have become available to those who seek them.

Certain factors can contribute to the likelihood of getting PTSD:

  • Physical, emotional, and psychological injuries
  • Seeing others suffer
  • Stress caused by the triggering event
  • Having a history of addiction or poor mental health

The good news is, some factors increase resilience to PTSD:

  • Having the support of loved ones
  • Participating in a recovery group
  • Developing habits that aid in learning from everyday stressors
  • Gaining confidence in your methods of handling danger

PTSD Treatment

PTSD requires a medical diagnosis. Treatment for PTSD can include medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. The most viable therapies include: 

  • Prolonged exposure to your negative feelings around the trauma with a provider 
  • Cognitive processing therapy to reframe negative thoughts about the event through talking and writing assignments
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing to make sense of your trauma. Recalling the trauma while focusing on a back-and-forth movement or sound 

Newer treatments include Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy. These treatments can be a bit more invasive but don't require medication or multiple therapy sessions.

PTSD affects nearly 3 million Americans each year, so there is no reason to be ashamed of this disorder. On the contrary, in most cases, treatment can bring order back into daily life.


As mentioned before, Post-Traumatic Stress, or PTS, is a sister of sorts to PTSD. Until the "D" officially drops from PTSD, PTS is considered a more mild form of PTSD. Anyone who experiences PTS will feel a trigger to their immediate fight or flight response.

Reactions to the event can leave one feeling a bit jittery with shaking hands, increased heart rate, or tense muscles. But, of course, these are considered normal responses to a troubling situation and typically go away in a few hours or days.

PTS Treatment

PTS does not require medical diagnosis or further treatment, but it is advisable to speak with someone if your symptoms become more severe over time. The odds are low that the situation will continue to impact your daily life.


An essential nuance in this family of acronyms is Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome or PTSS. If there were a bridge between PTS and PTSD, it would be PTSS.

This one is the trickiest to fully understand as there are different philosophies in diagnosing PTSS and PTSD. 

One study suggests a quantifiable scale of PTSS that can predict whether the symptoms will lead to PTSD. The scale considers several factors such as the number of traumatic events, how often symptoms occur, and impacts on social functioning. In addition, the scale aims to expand beyond wartime situations into areas of surviving natural disasters, hostage situations, assault, and rape. Therefore, the results often differ from results obtained from DSM-IV measures for PTSD.

The same study indicates that symptoms of PTSS that progress into PTSD make up about 2% of cases. While this percentage seems very small, when you consider 3 million people are diagnosed with PTSD every year, the number appears much more staggering. Research also concluded that women of all ages and men 65 and older were more likely to report symptoms of PTSS.

A second study suggests co-occurrence of the two conditions, PTSS and PTSD, is possible, particularly in those suffering from chronic pain. Similar to the analysis above, the participants included civilians and veterans. However, unlike the previous study, it used the DSM-IV to measure PTSD. The research in the second study showed the 20% of the participants qualified for a complete PTSD diagnosis and showed more prevalent rates of primary and secondary chronic pain conditions.

PTSS Treatment

Simply put, both studies agree on a few things. One, when caught early, PTSS treatment can prevent PTSD. Two, a range of symptoms for PTSD and PTSS exists that have treatment solutions involving medication, psychotherapy, or a combination.

If you suffer from chronic pain, it may be a related symptom to PTSS and should be diagnosed by a medical professional.


Unfortunately, there is an advanced version of PTSD called Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or CPTSD. This condition occurs when other mental health issues begin to coincide with PTSD. 

Symptoms of CPTSD include:

  • Going through the world with an extreme sense of doubt 
  • Perceptions that you are powerless and defenseless
  • Challenges managing everyday emotions
  • Feeling out of place constantly
  • Avoidance of intimate relationships and lasting friendships
  • Disengaging with yourself
  • Experiencing suicidal thoughts

The easiest way to envision CPTSD is the tragic scene in Forrest Gump when Lt. Dan is in the hospital coping with the loss of his legs after the war. Those who have seen the movie know it goes on to impact much of the rest of Lt. Dan's life from addiction and what seems like the inability to escape his rundown apartment. 

Other severe symptoms of CPTSD include vivid hallucinations and flashbacks that disrupt daily life. It's a genuinely debilitating experience.

CPTSD Treatment

Thankfully, it is treatable through the same means as PTSD. 

For others, CPTSD can have lifelong effects, but symptoms will ease with psychotherapy and medication. 

The D Or Not The D?

In conclusion, we are in support of PTS and the push to destigmatize the condition. We believe the "D" in PTS should be dropped from the acronym indefinitely. 

We hope that this destigmatization allows more veterans and soldiers to seek the treatment they need. All injuries deserve treatment regardless if they are seen or unseen. Finally, no one should have to wear a label that makes them feel less than anyone else.  

Resources for those with PTS

Make an appointment for a diagnosis

Find eligible care for veterans

Contact the Military Crisis Line for immediate help

Understand your treatment options with this webinar

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