06/12/2009 - Questions and Answers

What are mini-strokes?

By: Mark Castleden

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Question

What are mini-strokes? How come a person doesn't know they have had one? Now I am on blood pressure medications. I am 75 and wonder what's ahead?

 

Answer

Mini-strokes are also known as transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). A TIA is just like a stroke, except that it lasts only a few minutes. It occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is briefly interrupted. TIA symptoms, which usually occur suddenly, are similar to those of stroke but do not last as long. Most symptoms of a TIA disappear within an hour, although they may persist for up to 24 hours. Sometimes if a patient is alone he/she may not realize that a TIA has affected them or they may simply forget, because of the TIA itself. Usually family members notice the patient's symptoms.

Symptoms can include: numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body; confusion or difficulty in talking or understanding speech; trouble seeing in one or both eyes; and difficulty with walking, dizziness, or loss of balance and coordination.

Because there is no way to tell whether symptoms are from a TIA or an acute stroke, patients should assume that all stroke-like symptoms signal an emergency and should not wait to see if they go away.

A prompt evaluation (within an hour) is necessary to identify the cause of the TIA and determine appropriate therapy. Depending on a patient's medical history and results of the medical examination, the doctor may recommend drug therapy or surgery to reduce the risk of a full stroke in people who have had a TIA.

Antiplatelet agents, particularly aspirin, are standard treatment for patients at risk for stroke. People with atrial fibrillation (irregular beating of the heart) may be prescribed anticoagulants.

A patient with a suspected TIA requires a complete physical examination with a detailed neurologic examination.

Continue to take your blood pressure medications as prescribed by your physician. If you have hardening of the arteries it's best to avoid tight collars around the neck area. If you did have a TIA your physician may order an ultrasound of your neck arteries to see if there is any plaque that may be causing the TIA's. And ask your physician about taking a baby aspirin a day to keep your blood from forming any clots.

Created on: 11/04/2002
Reviewed on: 06/12/2009

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