Harvard Heart Letter

Mini strokes are a maxi problem

Treat a transient ischemic attack with the same urgency as chest pain.

Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), sometimes called mini strokes, were once written off as fleeting problems that posed little danger once they had passed. No longer "" these brief strokes are now seen as harbingers of trouble ahead. A study shows that a TIA often heralds a full-blown stroke, and that treating it as an emergency can help stave off the real thing.

A TIA occurs when part of the brain is suddenly deprived of oxygen. The symptoms depend on what part of the brain is affected (see "TIA symptoms"). It starts when a blood clot or bit of cholesterol-clogged plaque lodges in an artery nourishing the brain. The blockage is small enough or fragile enough that the body's self-repair systems can clear the artery, usually within an hour, although sometimes it takes up to a day. Larger, more durable blockages cause a stroke, which is characterized by long-lasting problems.

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