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...

Traumatic Brain Injury: A Guide for Caregivers of Service Members and Veterans

Publication
7/7/2021

The 2021 "Traumatic Brain Injury: A Guide for Caregivers of Service Members and Veterans" is a recovery support tool to assist caregivers of service members and veterans who have sustained a traumatic brain injury at any severity level.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Patient and Family Resources | TBI Educators | Traumatic Brain Injury

MSMR Vol. 28 No. 07 - July 2021

Report
7/1/2021

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Long-acting reversible contraceptive use, active component service women, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016–2020; Oral cavity and pharynx cancers, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2007–2019; The evolution of military health surveillance reporting: a historical review.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

TBI Caregiver Support Forms

Form/Template
6/29/2021

This is a fillable and printer-friendly version of the forms available in the "Traumatic Brain Injury: A Guide for Caregivers of Service Members and Veterans."

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Patient and Family Resources

Aphasia, Caused by Stroke or TBI, is Frustrating and Little Known

Article
6/29/2021
A doctor looking at brain scans

Aphasia is an incurable disease usually caused by stroke that affects all forms of communication.

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Heart Health | Centers of Excellence | Traumatic Brain Injury

NICoE Education Webinar Series: July Poster

Publication
6/25/2021

Service Members and TBI: The Not So Invisible Wound

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | TBI Education and Training Events | Centers of Excellence

NICoE Education Webinar Series: June Poster

Publication
6/23/2021

Combat-related Concussion: Understanding Trajectories of Long-term Clinical and Imaging Outcomes

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | TBI Education and Training Events

TBICoE Virtual Quarterly Education Series: July 2021

Publication
6/22/2021

The Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence is hosting a caregiver education series to learn about TBI caregiver resources, mind-body wellness exercises, and current research in the field.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | TBI Educators | Traumatic Brain Injury | TBI Education and Training Events

Progressive Return to Activity Following Concussion/mTBI Patient and Leadership Guide

Publication
6/22/2021

The Progressive Return to Activity Following Concussion/mTBI Patient and Leadership Guide alerts command and line leaders about the PRA process and provides service members with appropriate activities for each stage of their recovery.

Recommended Content:

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

Army’s 773rd administers mobile COVID-19 testing during DEF21

Article
6/4/2021
Three military personnel, wearing masks and lab coats, pose for a picture in an Albanian lab.

Approximately 800 Army Reserve soldiers from the U.S. and Europe participated in DEFENDER-Europe 21.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Readiness Capabilities

MSMR Vol. 28 No. 06 - June 2021

Report
6/1/2021

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: The cost of lower extremity fractures among active duty U.S. Army soldiers, 2017; Early identification of SARS-CoV-2 emergence in the Department of Defense via retrospective analysis of 2019–2020 upper respiratory illness samples; Brief report: Medical encounters for snakebite envenomation, active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016–2020; Department of Defense mid-season vaccine effectiveness estimates for the 2019–2020 influenza season.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

MHS Minute May 2021

Video
5/28/2021
Image of MHS Minute Carousel

In this month's MHS Minute, the DHA's commitment to transforming military health continues. The DHA officially established the Tidewater market in SE Virginia, serving over 200,000 patients. The MHS is standing up 19 markets like Tidewater to allow healthcare providers to better meet the needs of their patients by improving coordination between facilities in the area.

Recommended Content:

Military Health System Transformation | MHS GENESIS | Health Readiness | MHS GENESIS

ADVISOR brings support to medical personnel in austere environments

Article
5/27/2021
Photo of Michael Kile, LPN, the operational readiness program manger

The Military Health System offers the Advanced Virtual Support for Operational Forces program, or ADVISOR, for remote military medical professionals.

Recommended Content:

Technology | Combat Support | Health Readiness

TBI Topic Page Review Form

Publication
5/21/2021

The Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence (TBICoE) manages the content on the Health.mil Traumatic Brain Injury Topic Page for the Defense Health Agency (DHA). To submit content for review and approval to this page, Military Health System agencies and other government partners can email this form, along with attached content in a Word document, to the TBICoE website manager at dha.TBICoEinfo@mail.mil.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury

TRIP initiative bridges the gap between TBI research, clinical care

Article
5/13/2021
a statue of a broken circle

The Defense Intrepid Network launches the TRIP initiative to translate research findings into clinical practice.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | Brain Injury Awareness Month | Centers of Excellence

Longitudinal Study on Traumatic Brain Injury Incurred by Members of the Armed Forces in OIF/OEF

Congressional Testimony
5/4/2021

HR 5122 NDAA Conference Report for FY 2007 Sec. 721

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 16 - 30 Page 2 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.