The term mini-stroke is often used to describe transient ischemic attack (TIA), a type of stroke. The "mini" has led to a lot of confusion about the true severity of this condition, according to the March 2014 Harvard Women's Health Watch.
"Because of what the term implies, everybody thinks it's just a tiny stroke. The truth is, the symptoms can be pretty severe," says Dr. Natalia Rost, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and director of the Acute Stroke Service at Massachusetts General Hospital.
A TIA and a stroke are essentially the same thing—an interruption in blood flow to part of the brain. The interruption is caused by a clot blocking a blood vessel or a break in a blood vessel followed by bleeding into the brain. The difference between a TIA and a stroke is that the interruption in a TIA—and the symptoms it causes—are temporary. Yet a TIA can leave lasting damage, and it can pave the way for a true stroke. About a third of people who experience a TIA go on to have a major stroke within a year.
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