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.
TIA symptoms mirror those of a full-blown stroke. They include sudden
- numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg—especially on one side of the body
- trouble speaking or understanding
- difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
- loss of balance or coordination
A person having one or more of these symptoms can't know whether she or he is having a TIA or a stroke. And it doesn't really matter—get to the hospital right away regardless. Stroke-stopping treatment usually needs to be started within the first three hours after symptoms start. Once that window closes, treatment options are limited.
Women tend to wait longer than men to get medical help when they're having stroke symptoms. Some don't realize they are having a stroke. Others live alone and have trouble finding someone who can help them, or they don't want to bother anyone.
"When in doubt, go to an emergency room," Dr. Rost advises. "Even though the symptoms resolve, there might be damage to the brain, so you need to see a neurologist."
Read the full-length article: "Mini-stroke: What should you do?"