Mini-strokes can lead to bigger health problems

The term “mini-stroke”, as TIA (transient ischemic attack) is commonly referred to, makes the condition sound relatively harmless. However, TIA should be taken very seriously, as it can be a warning sign for a more serious stroke. Educating yourself about the symptoms and appropriate reactions can help save your life.

The cause of a stroke and TIA is the same – they are both caused by a blood clot. The difference is that in a TIA, the clot is temporary. Most TIAs last less than five minutes and don’t result in any permanent damage. During a stroke, the clot does not dissolve quickly and can cause permanent damage.

TIA occurs in 200,000 – 500,000 people per year in the U.S. The elderly and African Americans are at an increased risk.

Though a TIA usually doesn’t cause permanent damage, it is a warning sign that should be taken very seriously. Of the people who experience TIA, 10-15% have a stroke within three months, and half of those occur within 48 hours of the initial TIA.

The average TIA lasts about a minute. The best way to assess a stroke or TIA is to use the acronym “F.A.S.T.”:

F = Face Drooping

A = Arm Weakness

S = Speech Difficulty

T = Time to Call 911

Other signs of stroke may also occur. These include:

• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body

• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, lack of balance or coordination

• Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Whenever you experience any stroke symptoms, it is important to immediately call 911. There is no way to know whether a blood clot will resolve on its own or if it will result in a serious stroke. Do not wait to see if the symptoms will go away.

The majority of strokes are not preceded by TIA. However, if you do experience TIA, it gives you the time and resources to try to prevent a stroke from occurring. If you and your doctor identify the “warning stroke”, a preventative treatment plan can be put in place. This may include medication or surgery.

If you are a stroke survivor and experience the symptoms of TIA, it is important to seek emergency medical help immediately. This may be an indication that something in your stroke treatment has failed.

The most important piece of advice to remember is to seek emergency medical evaluation when you experience any symptoms of a stroke. There is no way to determine whether the condition will resolve on its own or result in a stroke. Even if symptoms resolve, seek medical treatment right away to be evaluated. Don’t delay.

Washington Health System is close to home and is certified by the Joint Commission and American Stroke Association for their quality stroke care. If you are a survivor of a stroke, the Stroke Support Group at Washington Health System is here to help. The Stroke Support Group meets the third Tuesday of each month from 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm. For more information, please call 724-229-2449.

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Eric Write head editor and chief at The Pluto Daily