May is stroke awareness month, and we are taking a look into how strokes impact the military veterans of America. Regardless of age, many veterans are at a heightened risk for stroke and the impacts that come with it. When it comes to U.S. Veterans, about 15,000 of them suffer a stroke each year as a result of their service to the country. Let's go into further detail about why this is and other important resources related to stroke awareness.

How PTSD is connected with stokes

Multiple studies have found that PTSD is intrinsically linked with a person's risk of stroke. According to Reuters, one study found that "veterans with PTSD were 61% more likely than others to have a mini-stroke and 36% more likely to have a stroke." The study primarily focused on those who were a part of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and who had no previous history of stroke incidents. 

The research also showed that, while age can be a factor in determining an individual's risk, there is a link between PTSD and strokes in young or middle-aged people. Strokes occur when a blood flow to the brain is disrupted by a clot or a rupture. Because blood vessels carry oxygen and other nutrients, the cells begin to die when it is blocked from those parts of the brain.

So how does PTSD relate to that? Traumatic stress that is sustained over a long period of time, such as in combat situations, can impact the overall functionality of the brain. While not every study suggests the same thing, many of them come to similar conclusions as to why PTSD increases the risk of stroke:

  • Increased hypercoagulability: Hypercoagulability is the increased tendency to form blood clots within a blood vessel.
  • Damaged Catecholamine and glucocorticoid production: These are hormones that the brain produces like epinephrine and dopamine. When these hormones are impacted, these impacts can lead to a higher risk of stroke: increased blood pressure, heightened platelet aggregation, vasoconstriction, cardiac arrhythmias, elevated heart rate and increased cardiac output.

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

Stroke awareness

PTSD is not the only reason why veterans are likely to be the victim of a stroke. Conditions such as brain damage received from active duty can also be contributing factors. The American Heart Association has found that "those who had a head injury were 69% more likely to have a stroke," even over the long term.  

Understanding that veterans are at a higher risk for stroke than their civilian counterparts can help increase awareness of the potential dangers. Stroke is the leading cause of death and disability across America, and awareness is just one piece of the puzzle and in creating prevention.

Stroke prevention

Aside from encouraging healthy lifestyle choices, there are a few things that a person can do in order to mitigate the damages of a stroke incident. There is even a helpful acronym that can help with stroke recognition and awareness:

  • Face: A drooping side of the face is a key sign of a potential stroke.
  • Arms: When both arms are raised above the head, does one fall lower than the other?
  • Speech: Slurred speech is a red flag and a characteristic symptom of a stroke.
  • Time: If you suspect a sign of stroke, call 9-1-1 right away because time is critical.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reports that about 6,000 Veterans per year are admitted to VA facilities with a stroke. If you are someone you know is at risk for a stroke, take the time to consult your physician and create a plan of prevention.