How is a mini-stroke different from a stroke? Who is at risk? And, how can you prevent it?
A mini-stroke is a name for what doctors call a transient ischemic attack (TIA). It occurs when part of the brain experiences a temporary lack of blood flow. This causes stroke-like symptoms that can last as briefly as one minute or up to 24 hours. Often, the symptoms are gone by the time you get to a doctor.
The National Stroke Association list three things that usually cause TIAs:
- Low blood flow at a narrow part of a major artery carrying blood to the brain, such as the carotid artery.
- A blood clot in another part of the body (such as the heart) breaks off, travels to the brain, and blocks a blood vessel in the brain.
- Narrowing of the smaller blood vessels in the brain, blocking blood flow for a short period of time; usually caused by plaque (a fatty substance) build-up.
Unlike a stroke, a TIA doesn’t kill brain tissue or cause permanent disabilities. However, since symptoms of a TIA and a stroke are nearly identical, you should ALWAYS seek immediate emergency attention if you experience any symptoms. In addition, a TIA can be a warning to an actual stroke—40 percent of people who have a TIA will have an actual stroke, some within the first few days after a TIA.
Symptoms of a TIA are:
- vision changes
- trouble speaking
- balance issues
- an altered level of consciousness
- passing out
- an abnormal sense of taste
- an abnormal sense of smell
- weakness or numbness on just one side of the body or face
Are you at risk for a mini-stroke?
There are two types of risk factors when it comes to stroke and to mini-strokes. They include factors you can control and those you cannot control.
Risk factors you can control include:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- heavy alcohol use
- being overweight
- physical inactivity
Other factors that are associated with an increased risk include:
- atrial fibrillation
- sleep apnea
- clogging of the carotid arteries in the neck
Risk factors you cannot control include:
- Age—the risk of having a TIA increases with age
- Race—African Americans, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives all have a higher risk of suffering a TIA
- Gender—women are at higher risk
- Family history—your risk increases if a parent or a brother or sister has had a TIA or stroke
A good way to find out your risk factors is to take the National Stroke Association TIA risk calculator.
6 things you can do to lower your TIA risk
- Lower your blood pressure—try to maintain a blood pressure of less than 120/80 or a less aggressive goal of 140/90. Eat less salt. Avoid high cholesterol foods, eat more fruits and vegetables, fish and whole grains.
- Manage your weight—if you’re overweight, losing as little as 10 pounds can have a real impact on your stroke risk.
- Exercise—do something you like at a moderate pace for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week.
- Drink in moderation—limit yourself to one glass of alcohol per day.
- Treat health problems—see your doctor and treat problems such as atrial fibrillation, diabetes and sleep apnea.
- Quit smoking—ask your doctor for advice on the most appropriate way for you to quit.
A TIA is a serious medical condition that requires immediate treatment. Treatment for a TIA will also help prevent a stroke from happening in the future. It’s important to stick with your treatment plan and to go to follow-up medical appointments. You and your doctor can determine the best preventive steps for you based on your specific medical needs.
Make getting and staying healthy easier:
Consider signing up for CarePlus—a free concierge health care service. When you sign up for CarePlus our team will help you:
- find the right doctor
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