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“Mini-strokes” have major risks

What’s the difference between a stroke and a transient ischemic attack (TIA)? At first, not much. They look the same, feel the same, and stem from the same thing — blocked blood flow to the brain. But a stroke lasts for hours, maybe longer, while a TIA fades away after a few minutes.

Don’t be fooled by the disappearance of symptoms. Even after they are gone, danger still lurks in the form of other TIAs, stroke, and even death.

A study published in the April 2005 Stroke looked at all the people who had a TIA in the Cincinnati area during a single year. In the three months following the mini-stroke, 1 in 7 people (14.6%) had a full stroke, and 1 in 4 (25.2%) had either died or suffered a stroke or another TIA.

British researchers, writing in the March 2005 Neurology, looked at the connection from the other direction. Among more than 500 stroke victims, 17% had experienced a TIA on the day of their stroke, 9% had one on the day before, and a whopping 43% had a TIA sometime during the week preceding the stroke.

These studies add to the mounting evidence that it’s time to take TIAs seriously. If you think you or someone you are with is having one, do the same thing you would do for a heart attack: Call 911.

Once the crisis has passed, your doctors should do two things: Start looking for what caused the problem, and do what they can to prevent a subsequent stroke or TIA.

TIA symptoms

Call 911 or your local emergency medical services number right away if one or more of these symptoms suddenly happen to you or someone else, even if they begin to fade away after a few minutes.

  • Numbness or weakness in your face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Inability to move your fingers, hand, arm, or leg
  • Trouble seeing with one or both eyes or hearing with one or both ears
  • Slurred speech or other trouble speaking
  • Difficulty understanding what someone is saying
  • Dizziness, trouble walking, or loss of balance or coordination
  • Rapid and severe headache

June 2005 Update

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