Up to 500,000 people in the U.S. have a mini-stroke or TIA (transient ischemic attack) each year. Although symptoms are temporary, and no damage occurs in the brain, a mini-stroke is a huge predictor of a larger stroke. According to the National Stroke Association, 40 percent of people who have a mini-stroke will go on to have an actual stroke - nearly half within the next few days. In honor of National Stroke Awareness Month, let's take a closer look at the identification, treatment and prevention of a mini-stroke.
What is a Mini-Stroke?
A stroke occurs when blood supply to the brain is interrupted because of a blockage. Mini-strokes mimic the symptoms of a stroke and are the body's way of telling you a bigger stroke may be coming. Symptoms last only a few minutes and resolve within about an hour but require emergency treatment.
These stroke symptoms warrant immediate attention. If they last a short time, you are likely suffering a mini-stroke rather than a stroke:
- weakness in an arm, hand, or leg
- numbness on one side of the body
- severe headache
- sudden vision changes in one or both eyes
- trouble talking
- inability to understand what someone is saying
- difficulty walking
- dizziness or loss of balance and coordination
Whenever you have stroke symptoms, it's imperative that you go to the emergency room right away. The two main causes of a mini-stroke are blockages or bleeding in the brain. A doctor can work to determine the cause of your symptoms and treat them with medications or surgery.
- Medication: The doctor may decide to prescribe medication. Anticoagulants such as Coumadin are given to thin the blood while antiplatelet medications like aspirin can prevent clots from forming.
- Surgery: A carotid endarterectomy is a surgical procedure to remove plaque from the carotid artery and is often performed on stroke survivors. An angioplasty may also be performed to open the blood vessel and improve blood flow to a blocked artery.
Follow-up care is very important after a mini-stroke so that your doctor can identify risk factors and help you to lower your long-term stroke risk. Risk factors of a stroke include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
To lower your risk of having a stroke, the doctor will advise you to quit smoking, eat a low-fat, low-sodium diet, and exercise to maintain a healthy weight. You will also need to treat any medical problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, and see your doctor on a regular basis.
If you do suffer a stroke, rehabilitation will be a key part of your recovery. Although it cannot reverse the effects of a stroke, it can build your strength, capability, and confidence so you can enjoy a high quality of life. The Brian Center of Durham is a full-service rehabilitation center that provides state-of-the-art therapies to stroke survivors from an experienced staff including:
- physical therapy to regain mobility, balance, coordination
- occupational therapy to relearn personal care skills and strengthen mobility
- speech therapy to strengthen speech clarity, communication or language