Mini-strokes are warning that shouldn't be ignored
By: Kenneth Ripp, M.D.
Most people are familiar with the medical condition known as a stroke. Strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked or bursts. The blood vessel no longer supplies oxygen, and the part of the brain where it is located begins to die.
Strokes are serious and should be treated immediately. The sooner treatment begins, the more likely it is that damage to the brain will be minimal.
Sometimes, a blood vessel becomes blocked or partially blocked for a short time, and then for one reason or another, the blockage is moves within the blood vessel and blood flow returns to the brain. When this happens, a person may temporarily experience symptoms of a stroke, and those symptoms may dissipate when the blockage moves and blood flow returns. These temporary symptoms may last only minutes or could remain for an hour or more.
This condition is known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or mini-stroke. Because symptoms of a TIA are temporary, people experiencing them may believe that they are okay and the danger has passed. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
TIA’s are a precursor, or warning, that a stroke is very likely to occur in the future. People experiencing a TIA or possible TIA should seek medical assistance immediately.
Symptoms of a TIA are similar to symptoms of a stroke. They include:
• Numbness, weakness, tingling or paralysis, especially on one side of the body.
• Double vision, blurry vision or trouble seeing.
• Confusion, trouble understanding what others are saying.
• Trouble speaking, words are slurred or garbled.
• Vertigo, dizziness, staggering, fainting or unsteadiness.
• Headache, often severe.
Symptoms can grow gradually worse, over minutes, hours or even days. This can be because a person is experiencing several small strokes, or because the blood supply is only partially blocked and the deficiency of oxygen builds up over time.
Because symptoms can come on gradually and because they may go away and then come back again, it can be difficult for a person to recognize that they are experiencing a TIA.
Family, friends and bystanders can help in identifying a TIA or stroke. If someone you know is exhibiting possible signs of a TIA, don’t let him or her chalk it up to age, illness or some other factor. Instead do your own mini assessment using the first three letters of the word, “stroke” – STR.
S – Ask the person to smile. If a person’s smile is crooked or they are unable to coordinate movement of their lips, it could be a sign of stroke or TIA. You can also ask the person to stick out their tongue. A crooked tongue can also be a symptom.
T – Ask the person to talk and repeat a simple sentence such as, “It is sunny out today.”
R – Ask the person to raise both arms. A TIA often affects one side of the body, making it difficult for a person to raise both arms together.
If the person has difficulty with any one of these tasks, call 911 immediately and get medical attention as soon as possible. If a stroke is diagnosed quickly – within a few hours of the onset of symptoms – medications and treatments can lead to a better recovery.
A TIA is a warning. It indicates a blocked or partially blocked blood vessel in your brain, making it likely that you will experience a stroke in the future. Even if the symptoms of a TIA go away, the danger does not. Early treatment can help prevent a stroke. If you or someone you know experiences symptoms of a stroke or TIA, don’t hesitate. Call 911 and get medical attention as soon as possible.
Dr. Ripp is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic.