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Watch Out for Mini-Stroke

a man with hand on his chest

A serious warning sign of an impending stroke is something called a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or “mini-stroke.” About one-third of the people who experience a TIA go on to have a major stroke within a year, according to the American Stroke Association. This is the most important warning sign to recognize, because taking it seriously gives you time to prevent a more serious stroke.

Basically, there is no difference between a TIA and a stroke except for duration and damage. In layman’s terms, a transient ischemic attack simply means a temporary interruption of blood flow (and oxygen) to the brain. It happens very quickly and lasts just a short time — between 1 to 5 minutes. And when it’s over, there is no permanent damage to the brain. It is possible for the symptoms to last a couple of hours, but there is always complete recovery within 24 hours.

Because it happens so fast, many people are inclined to ignore it. In fact, the whole event barely takes enough time to wonder what on Earth just happened! But a TIA is almost always the result of a clot, and therefore it’s a serious warning signal.

Think of the aorta, the largest artery in the body, as a river from the heart to the brain. A blood clot that breaks loose is carried by that river into smaller and smaller pathways until it reaches a place too narrow to pass. At that point it, becomes a blockage cutting off blood flow to the brain.

If the clot dislodges right away or the body dissolves it, the symptoms will be temporary — a TIA. But whatever caused the event is still lurking within the cardiovascular system. The incident may have passed, but the danger has not.

Not surprisingly, half of the people who experience a TIA fail to report it to their doctor. But they’re walking time bombs, even if they don’t know it.

TIAs also can occur after a patient has experienced a full-blown stroke. If this happens, it means something in the treatment plan is not working. In this case, the patient should seek medical attention immediately.

Dr. Crandall calls TIA “the first shot in battle” when it comes to stroke prevention treatment. It’s not a warning you can afford to ignore. Taking it seriously and getting immediate help can save your life.

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