Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Signs and symptoms of a stroke, and what to do about them

Image of Infographic about the sign of a stroke. Click to open a larger version of the image. If you see the signs in yourself or someone else, please call 9-1-1 so they can get the proper treatment. You could save a life in doing so (Photo by: Rebecca Westfall, U.S. Army Medical Command).

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Traumatic Brain Injury

The most important factor to keep in mind during a stroke is not wasting time, say neurological specialists. “Time is brain,” is the common medical adage, because every second counts to get the best possible outcome.

According to Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Michael Crimmins, chief of interventional neuroradiology and stroke medical director at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, humans lose about 1 million brain cells per minute during a stroke. He recommends getting to a hospital right away, preferably by ambulance, “because they can bypass triage and get you immediate medical attention.”

A stroke can cause lasting brain damage, long-term disability, or even death, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Crimmins explained strokes are the No. 1 leading cause of preventable disability in the United States and among the top 10 causes of death for men and women in the country.

They can occur from two scenarios:

“There are ischemic strokes, where a blood clot stops the blood from flowing into the blood vessels of the brain,” said Crimmins. “And there are hemorrhagic – or bleeding – strokes, where a blood vessel tears or ruptures, causing bleeding into the brain.”

In both cases, the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the brain is interrupted.

“When you lack blood flow to the brain for long enough, the neurons – the brain cells – start to die,” said Crimmins. “The brain and the neurons control our ability to use our bodies, so once they die it’s very difficult to recover that function, especially as we get older.”

These include functions like movement, breathing, and digestion; memory storage; and thoughts, emotions, and language, according to the CDC.

Ischemic strokes, noted Crimmins, are what most people think about when they think about stroke. Those can be caused by a variety of factors.

“The most common cause is frequently due to an embolism, a clot that forms in the heart, which the heart then pumps into the brain,” he said. “Other people have carotid artery disease and others have narrowing, or atherosclerosis, of the blood vessels of the brain itself, so any one of those can stop blood from flowing into the brain.”

And while there are risk factors that elevate the potential for suffering a stroke, having one often happens out of the blue, with patients not realizing they’re having a stroke “until they do,” he said.

“In that case, the onset of symptoms is very quick – they go from having no symptoms one minute to having an inability to speak or move a part of their body the next.”

Risk factors can be genetic and include hypertension, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, smoking, and the use of illegal drugs, such as cocaine. But, according to Crimmins, they’re treatable.

“Sometimes, we can work on those with medication, by adjusting the patient’s diet, or helping them make other lifestyle changes to reduce inflammation,” he said. “If you have concerns over some other risk factors, it would be smart to try and maximize your health, like getting these medical conditions under control to prevent strokes and the potential for dementia down the road.”

At a military medical treatment facility, neurologists like Crimmins conduct a series of tests to identify the type of stroke a patient is having before treating it.

“We can potentially give clot-busting medication or even do a surgical removal of a clot by accessing the artery in the leg and going up to do an extraction,” he said.

The medication works by dissolving the clot and improving the blood flow to the part of the brain being deprived of blood and oxygen, noted Crimmins.

“For severe strokes, surgical intervention has been found to be the most helpful way to treat somebody with a severe stroke,” he said.

Either way, the most important takeaway is getting immediate attention. “We know that the longer you wait the less likely you are to have a good outcome after a stroke,” said Crimmins.

Below are some important facts about strokes:

  1. Don’t waste time – act F.A.S.T. to get medical attention as soon as you notice symptoms of a stroke.
  2. Men and women present the same symptoms of strokes.
  3. Depending on which blood vessel is closed off, symptoms can include any change in typical brain function: Slurred speech or a change in speech, such as a “word salad” in which words don’t seem like they go together and are not what a person means; weakness on the arm, face, or leg; double or blurry vision; severe vertigo or dizziness, severe headache.
  4. It’s possible to have a stroke and not even know it: Strokes can be asymptomatic, or silent, and are only discovered as scar tissue on the brain once people see their doctor for what they think are memory problems or headaches.
  5. Untreated strokes can lead to dementia due to a chronic loss in mental faculties.
  6. You can help reduce your risk of stroke by maintaining healthy living habits and controlling certain medical conditions.
  7. Once you have a stroke, you’re at higher risk of having another stroke soon.
  8. Strokes occur more frequently in the people between the ages of 60-80. However, there are a fair number of younger people who have strokes, including service members, due to irregular heart rhythm or a tear in the blood vessels, called a dissection.

You also may be interested in...

How Health Care Providers Can Mitigate Burnout

Article
5/25/2022
U.S. Army Soldiers load a simulated patient on to a New Jersey National Guard UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter during a combat lifesaver course run by the Medical Simulation Training Center on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, April 14, 2022.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht)

“No one is immune to burnout. Healthcare providers are very good at rescuing others. We train for it and practice it daily. Unfortunately, we often do so at the expense of our own health and wellness.”

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Health Readiness

Feeling Burned Out at Work? Here Are Some Tips to Feel Better

Article
5/24/2022
Feeling burned out? Tips to understand and avoid burnout.

The good news is that burnout can be mitigated. There are numerous steps that individuals and leaders can take to reduce burnout and its impact.

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Health Readiness

39 MDG beta tests AFMS first blended TCCC and Medic-X curriculum

Article Around MHS
5/20/2022
Military medical personnel performing safety exercise

The Air Force Medical Service tasked the 39th Medical Group to test the service’s first blended curriculum, enhancing the readiness and skills of medical personnel, Soldiers, and NATO allies at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, April 20-24, 2022.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

2000-2021 DOD Worldwide Numbers for TBI

Report
5/17/2022

TBICoE is the Defense Department’s office of responsibility for tracking traumatic brain injury data in the U.S. military. Here you’ll find data on the number of active-duty service members—anywhere U.S. forces are located—with a first-time TBI diagnosis from calendar year 2000 through the fourth quarter of 2021. The data is also broken down by each branch of the armed services.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | TBI Educators | TBI Provider Resources | Traumatic Brain Injury

2021 DOD Worldwide Numbers for TBI

Report
5/17/2022

TBICoE is the Defense Department’s office of responsibility for tracking traumatic brain injury data in the U.S. military. Here you’ll find data on the number of active-duty service members—anywhere U.S. forces are located—with a first-time TBI diagnosis in 2021. The data is also broken down by each branch of the armed services.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | TBI Educators | TBI Provider Resources | Traumatic Brain Injury

Neuroimaging Following Mild TBI Clinical Recommendation

Publication
5/16/2022

This TBICoE clinical recommendation allows primary care managers to make an informed, evidenced-based decision regarding whether or not imaging is indicated following a concussion/mild TBI.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | TBI Provider Resources | Traumatic Brain Injury

Iraq Bomb Attack Led Soldier to Pursue Medical Career

Photo
5/12/2022
Iraq Bomb Attack Led Soldier to Pursue Medical Career

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mathew Maxwell (Left) and U.S. Capt. Brian Ahern, medical personnel assigned to a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency recovery team, check the pulse of a local villager during excavation operations in the Houaphan province, Laos, Feb. 5, 2019. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Michael O'Neal)

Recommended Content:

Combat Support | Health Readiness

Iraq Bomb Attack Led Soldier to Pursue Medical Career

Article
5/12/2022
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mathew Maxwell (Left) and U.S. Capt. Brian Ahern, medical personnel assigned to a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) recovery team, check the pulse of a local villager during excavation operations in the Houaphan province, Laos, Feb. 5, 2019.

Treating wounded soldiers for the first time was a life-changing experience for this enlisted medic.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Nurses Week Toolkit: United In Service, Rooted in Strength

Expeditionary Medical Integration

Photo
5/12/2022
Expeditionary Medical Integration

U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy Corpsmen with 1st Marine Division asses the injuries under the supervision of evaluators during an Expeditionary Medical Integration Course (EMIC) on Camp Pendleton, California May 5, 2022.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Expeditionary Medical Integration Course: Unified in keeping Marines in the fight

Article Around MHS
5/12/2022
Military personnel in medical training

I Marine Expeditionary Force's Expeditionary Operations Training Group on Camp Pendleton developed the Expeditionary Medical Integration Course to prepare Marines and line corpsmen for future deployments.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Navy Hospital Ship Departs for Pacific Partnership 2022

Article Around MHS
5/9/2022
Navy Hospital Ship Departs

Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) departed San Diego, May 3, marking the beginning of Pacific Partnership 2022 (PP22).

Recommended Content:

Readiness Capabilities | Health Readiness

2021 Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence Annual Report

Publication
4/26/2022

The 2021 Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence (TBICoE) Annual Report provides a look at accomplishments and activities from calendar year 2021.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Traumatic Brain Injury | TBI Educators | TBICoE Research | TBI Provider Resources

A History of the Combat Helmet and the Quest to Prevent Injuries

Article
4/25/2022
Lt. Gen. George S. Patton and Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. are pictured here in 1943 wearing the standard M1 helmet, sometimes called the "steel pot." (Photo: 1st Infantry Division Courtesy Photo)

The combat helmet has evolved over time to improve protection against projectiles and shock waves to reduce the risk of fatal blows and traumatic brain injuries.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | Military Medical History

Niger, U.S. doctors treat 550 patients in Ouallam

Article Around MHS
4/15/2022
Military training

 Nigerien and U.S. doctors alongside U.S. joint service medical specialists established a temporary field clinic to provide medical treatment to citizens of Ouallam and the surrounding areas as a part of a medical civic action program (MEDCAP) in Ouallam, Niger, March 16, 2022.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

DHA Director Outlines Vision for Health Care Readiness at HIMSS

Article
4/11/2022
Army Lt. General (Dr.) Ron Place during his speech at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference held in Orlando, Florida, March 2022. Place’s speech detailed his thoughts on solutions to military health care readiness. (Photo: Claire Reznicek, MHS Communications)

During his speech at HIMSS, Lt. Gen. Place discusses clear and present dangers to military medical care.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 52

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.