According to the American Heart Association, nearly 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke every year. About 75 percent of those are first-time strokes. Strokes are the leading preventable cause of disability, but immediate treatment can reduce the chances of permanent effects. However, stroke symptoms can vary from patient to patient, making self-diagnosis difficult. This is especially true in the case of transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), often referred to as “mini-strokes.” TIAs don’t cause permanent injury, but they’re still extremely serious events, as they can precede a stroke. In many cases, people experience these attacks without recognizing them as strokes; as a result, they don’t get treatment, and additional attacks occur. Here are some important facts to know about transient ischemic attacks. Remember, only a qualified physician can provide a medical diagnosis. If you recognize any symptoms below or any unusual, persistent symptoms, call your doctor right away.
1. TIAs can cause many of the same symptoms as strokes.
TIAs occur when part of the brain cannot receive normal blood flow, often due to arterial blockages. Patients will often experience vision changes or partial blindness at the outset of a TIA. This is sometimes accompanied by abnormal senses of taste or smell, weakness on a single side of the body, confusion, balance issues, and trouble speaking. The National Stroke Association provides the “FAST” acronym to help people remember the signs of a stroke. As the association writes:
FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop? ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward? SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange? TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.
TIA symptoms may change or disappear entirely within a few seconds. In some cases, patients may even lose consciousness, although most people typically regain consciousness quickly.
2. The symptoms of a TIA may last for less than a minute.
This is part of the reason that diagnosis is so difficult; patients often assume that when symptoms disappear, the underlying condition is gone. If you suffer a mini-stroke, you probably won’t have any symptoms present by the time you see a doctor. Even so, you should seek an immediate clinical diagnosis. Write down as many of your symptoms as possible and visit the emergency room right away.
3. Strokes and TIAs have the same cause.
Both conditions result from a lack of blood flow to the brain, which is why 33 percent of patients who experience TIAs eventually suffer strokes. By definition, however, a TIA does not cause permanent damage to brain tissue, and by seeking medical assistance, you can drastically reduce your chances of suffering a stroke. In many cases, doctors will treat TIAs with pharmaceuticals designed to prevent blood clots from forming. However, if you have an arterial blockage, you may need surgery. Remember, time is a key factor—if you believe that you’ve had a TIA, go to the emergency room immediately.