Each year, about 240,000 Americans experience mini-strokes. More than one-third of those individuals will suffer a severe stroke in the future. Half the time, the subsequent major stroke takes place within a year, but it can occur as quickly as days or months after the mini-stroke.
A mini-stroke, also called a transient ischemic attack (TIA), lasts for only a few minutes. Its symptoms appear suddenly and usually disappear within one hour. All effects generally last no longer than 24 hours. As a result, mini-stroke sufferers can fail to realize what happened to them and not seek treatment. But a mini-stroke—which occurs when the blood supply to the brain is temporarily interrupted—signals that your body needs immediate medical attention. Prompt evaluation and treatment can help you avoid a major stroke and its life-threatening effects.
Mini-stroke symptoms resemble those of a stroke but generally involve no brain damage. Warning signs may include:
- weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, typically on one side of the body
- vision loss
- confusion or difficulty speaking or understanding
- dizziness or loss of coordination or balance
- sudden severe headache
Doctors believe mini-strokes occur when blood clots temporarily obstruct blood flow to the brain. Additional research suggests some mini-strokes may be caused by brain artery spasms.
A medical exam within an hour of a mini-stroke helps doctors determine what caused the attack and outline treatment to help prevent a major stroke. Your doctor may prescribe medication to reduce blood clotting or recommend surgery to clear plaque from arteries.
Older individuals, African-Americans and people who have a strong family history of heart disease, stroke and diabetes are more susceptible to mini-stroke and stroke. But you can decrease your chances of both by:
- eating a well-balanced diet
- exercising regularly
- working closely with your doctor to avoid developing cardiovascular disease
- keeping your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar within healthy limits
- losing excess pounds
- quitting smoking