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

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

Infographic about the sign of a stroke 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...

Expeditionary Medical Force Brings Optimal Readiness in Pacific Region

Article Around MHS
10/18/2021
A male soldier talks about a chart to to a female sailor.

The 121st Field Hospital of the 549th Hospital Center recently introduced an innovative way to increase medical Soldiers’ proficiency and competency by enhancing access to the field hospital equipment.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Combat Support

WICC Podcast

Photo
10/18/2021

Today’s female service member population is now at 17%.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Warrior Care | Total Force Fitness

Brain Resilliance

Photo
10/14/2021
Enriched environments and new experiences encourage brain plasticity. When you learn something new—such as a new instrument, language, skill, or sport—new neuropathways are created in your brain.

Soldiers training for operations.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Total Force Fitness | In the Spotlight

2021 Q2 DOD Worldwide Numbers for TBI

Publication
10/14/2021

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 the second quarter of calendar year 2021. The data is also broken down by each branch of the armed services.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | DOD TBI Worldwide Numbers | Traumatic Brain Injury

2000-Q2 2021 DOD Worldwide Numbers for TBI

Publication
10/14/2021

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 second quarter of 2021. The data is also broken down by each branch of the armed services.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | DOD TBI Worldwide Numbers | Centers of Excellence | Traumatic Brain Injury

USU Co-leads Largest NCAA-DOD Concussion Study in History

Article
10/8/2021
A doctor looks at a patient's prosthetic arm.

The Uniformed Service University will co-lead the next phase of the largest concussion and repetitive head impact study.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury

Health Promotion duo optimizes health on Incirlik Air Base

Article Around MHS
9/30/2021
Air Force Capt. Sydney Sloan, 39th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion element chief (right), and Air Force Senior Airman Gloriann Manapsal, 39th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion technician (left), promote making healthy choices at the Sultan’s Inn Dining Facility on Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.

The 39th Operation Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion team provides and integrates evidence-based programs to optimize the health and readiness, even during these unprecedented times.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Total Force Fitness | Coronavirus

Marine Sgt. John Peck

Photo
9/29/2021
Portrait photo of John Peck

From losing all four limbs in an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2010, to battling back from being on the brink of suicide, Marine Sgt. John Peck now hopes to help people who may be in their own dark place as an author and motivational speaker (Photo courtesy of John Peck).

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | Suicide Prevention | Talking About Afghanistan

Back from the Brink: One Marine's Recovery from Suicidal Thoughts

Article
9/29/2021
Portrait photo of John Peck

After suffering a TBI in Iraq and losing all four limbs in Afghanistan, Marine Sgt. John Peck talks about his own experience and the differences in the ways in which individuals deal with traumatic life events.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | Suicide Prevention | Talking About Afghanistan

Concussion Linked to Depression, Anxiety and PTSD, Studies Show

Article
9/28/2021
Picture of blast waves during an explosion

A clear link between blast-related concussions and mental health symptoms like depression, anxiety, and PTSD, is shown in a series of recent studies.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury

NICoE, NHRC Team Up To Make CAREN Technology Portable

Article
8/12/2021
A person walks in front of a large virtual reality screen.

Head-mounted display technology has become more affordable and accessible

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence

Concussion Awareness V1

Infographic
8/3/2021
Social media infographic on September 17

According to the Defense Health Agency Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence (TBICoE), 439,609 service members have been diagnosed with a first-time TBI since 2000. The most common form of TBI in the military is mild, and is also known as a concussion.

Recommended Content:

September Toolkit | Traumatic Brain Injury

Did You Know? Concussions - Mild TBI

Infographic
8/3/2021
Social media infographic for concussions

Concussions are the most common form or Traumatic Brain Injury in the Military. Be TBI ready!

Recommended Content:

September Toolkit | Traumatic Brain Injury

PRA Case Study Workbook

Publication
7/23/2021

This workbook, paired with corresponding PRA Training Video 8, is an interactive clinical case scenario to test your understanding in applying the Progressive Return to Activity. We hope this will help medical providers become more familiar with the PRA process when treating service members with concussion.

Recommended Content:

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

Caregiver Guide supports service members and veterans with TBI

Article
7/22/2021
Military family posing for a picture

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence’s 2021 Caregiver Guide provides specific tools to help caregivers manage TBI patient recovery.

Recommended Content:

Centers of Excellence | Traumatic Brain Injury | TBI Education and Training Events
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 51

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.