A stoke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, leading to neurologic symptoms based on the area of the brain that was impacted. A ministroke, also known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), is when a brief lack of blood flow occurs but is restored before there is permanent damage to brain tissue. It's important you seek medical attention if you've suffered a TIA, as it could be an early sign of a future stroke. In fact, one in three people who experience TIAs go on to suffer more serious strokes within 48 hours, and according to the American Stroke Association, 10-15 percent of people who have experienced a TIA will have a major stroke within three months. This is a crucial information to remember.
Usually brief, TIA symptoms can easily fly under the radar, going completely unnoticed or thought of simply as passing fatigue or dizziness, so it’s critically important to be able to recognize its symptoms as they occur.
Let's look deeper into TIAs to understand their causes, risk factors, and the ministroke symptoms and warning signs you may be missing.
There are a few critical causes of ministrokes, number one being blood clots. While anyone can suffer from one, if you're someone who has hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, heart disease, or diabetes, you also run a higher risk of experiencing a TIA. Additionally, risk for TIA’s tends to increase with age.
"There's a misconception that a transient ischemic attack can only occur in the elderly, but that's a myth," says Anita Mehta, DO, a neurologist at Summit Health. “TIAs and strokes can affect anyone.” In 2009, 34 percent of people hospitalized for strokes were under the age of 65."
Ministroke symptoms usually last only a few minutes. However, this doesn't mean that someone can't experience ministroke symptoms for longer. In some cases, symptoms can last 24 hours.
Common TIA symptoms include:
- Dizziness or loss of balance
- Temporary weakness or numbness in one side of the body, often the arm or face
- Trouble with speaking and speech
- Problems with vision or trouble seeing out of one eye
- Sudden headaches
- Confusion or difficulty understanding
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention as quickly as possible. While no one wants to suffer a ministroke, it serves as a warning sign and a chance to prevent future strokes. Remember, up to 15 percent of individuals who experience a TIA, experience a full stroke within 90 days.
A helpful way to recognize the signs of a stroke or TIA is by using the American Stroke Association's acronym, FAST:
- F – Face drooping
- A – Arm weakness
- S – Speech difficulty
- T – Time to call 911
If you are diagnosed with a ministroke, that are treatments that can help reduce risk for S future stroke such as:
- Antiplatelet drugs
- Anticoagulants, which are blood thinners
- Lifestyle changes to improve cardiovascular health
- Rarely, surgery may be needed to repair anatomic defects that increase risk for blood clots
Regardless of our age and medical conditions, we can all reduce our risk for ministrokes by improving our overall cardiovascular health. Here are some things you can do:
- Avoid smoking. If you are an active tobacco user speak to your physician about resources to help you quit
- Eat a healthy diet, including lots of fruits and vegetables
- Exercise regularly
- Try to maintain a healthy weight
- As a prevention measure against full strokes, it is important to understand the warning signs, risk factors, and symptoms of a ministroke. Get regular check-ups so that you know your blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels. And talk to your doctor if you think you’ve experienced any of the associated symptoms.
Summit Health's neurology department is trained and experienced to diagnose and treat common neurological disorders, including strokes. If you think you may be at risk, or if you want to talk to a professional about your neurological health, book an appointment with any of our neurologists today.