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A Mini Stroke is a Serious Warning Sign

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A transient ischemic attack (TIA), or mini-stroke, occurs when the supply of oxygen is cut off to an area of the brain. Unlike the effects of a stroke, which are often permanent, the symptoms of a transient ischemic attack last less than 24 hours and usually less than 10 minutes. Anyone who has had a transient ischemic attack is at risk of developing a stroke in the future.

The term mini-stroke is not accurate despite its common usage. However, transient ischemic attacks or mini-strokes are warning signals of a future stroke and are real emergencies. In order to understand the seriousness, some physicians make a comparison of chest pain and heart attack to transient ischemic attacks and stroke—and even refer to the stroke as a brain attack. Stroke is the third most common cause of death (after heart attack and cancer) in the United States.

Risk factors for a transient ischemic attack (TIA) and stroke are similar to those for heart disease: high blood pressure, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, cigarette smoking, obesity, and a family history of stroke or heart disease.

Men are at 3 times greater risk than females. The risk increases for those older than 45 years. People in their 70s and 80s are at the greatest risk for TIA and stroke.

The symptoms of a TIA appear and then go away because the human body has the ability to restore blood flow to the affected part of the brain under these circumstances. Small blood clots that form within the blood vessels can be broken down using the body's own protective mechanism.

The key symptoms of a mini stroke, or TIA, are:

  • weakness, numbness, clumsiness or pins and needles on one side of the body, for example in an arm, leg or the face
  • loss of or blurred vision in one or both eyes
  • slurred speech or difficulty finding some words
  • Because there is no way to tell whether symptoms are from a mini stroke or an acute stroke, you should always assume that all stroke-like symptoms signal an emergency and should not wait to see if they go away. A prompt evaluation (within 60 minutes) is necessary to identify the cause of the TIA and determine any appropriate therapy. Depending on your medical history and the results of a medical examination, the doctor may recommend drug therapy or surgery to reduce the risk of stroke.

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