Physicians call them transient ischemic attacks, but they are more commonly known as "mini-strokes." But make no mistake - they can be deadly.
What is worse, many people who suffer such an attack rarely seek medical help.
Just one in 10 people who experienced symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) sought the proper emergency care, says a recent study published in the journal Stroke.
Urgent care is critical, because some people who suffer TIAs will have a major stroke as soon as a day or two after the mini-stroke.
"People need urgent medical attention not for the symptoms that have passed but for what might be coming,” says Dr. Keith Siller, medical director of the Comprehensive Stroke Care Center at New York University Medical Center.
“Many people don't have a TIA before they have a stroke, so, in a sense, it's fortunate to have one. Now you have a chance to intervene," he says.
A transient ischemic attack occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain is temporarily blocked. When this occurs, symptoms come on suddenly and last anywhere from a few minutes to many hours.
Symptoms may include:
One thing you may not feel with a stroke is pain.
"Pain is not the right thing to look for in stroke," says Dr. Christian Schumacher, a neurologist at the Stern Stroke Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "People expect that like a heart attack, which is often painful, that stroke will cause pain. But stroke symptoms are, in most cases, without pain."
One exception, adds Dr. Siller, is what is known as a hemorrhagic stroke. In this instance, you would likely experience a sudden, severe, unexplained headache. If you have such a headache or any of the above symptoms, says Dr. Siller, you should get to the hospital immediately.
Unfortunately, not many people realize the need for urgent care. In the Stroke study, British researchers surveyed 241 people who had experienced a transient ischemic attack.
Just 44.4 percent sought medical care within a few hours of experiencing TIA symptoms, and only 10 percent sought any emergency medical care at all for their symptoms.
Another 44 percent waited longer than a day after their symptoms to seek care.
Persons with symptoms that lasted more than one hour, as well as those with motor symptoms such as difficulty walking, were more likely to seek care.
If the TIA symptoms occurred on a weekend, people were more likely to delay seeking treatment.
People "want to wait until they feel better, and most TIAs get better within an hour. If it gets better, people just think, 'Oh, that was weird,' and then they may call their doctor later," says Dr. Schumacher.
Or, they may just forget the symptoms altogether, says Dr. Siller. "When symptoms are gone, and they feel better, people forget. But, it's a misconception that if it went away, it doesn't mean anything.”
Dr. Schumacher notes, "Although TIA is called a mini-stroke; it's like having a real stroke. It's a warning sign for a major disabling stroke."
Getting to the hospital as soon as possible after TIA or stroke symptoms begin is critical. The reason: Clot-busting drugs that can spare you many of stroke's worst effects - including paralysis - have to be administered within several hours after the onset of symptoms to be effective, explains Dr. Siller.
"If you wait, we can't do as much to help you," he says.
Dr. Siller also recommends discussing your risk factors with your physician.
The most common risk factor for stroke is a past history of a stroke or a TIA. People with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and those with heart disease also have an increased risk of stroke, making it even more important for them to act quickly if they have any TIA symptoms.
Always consult your physician for more information.
Stroke, also called brain attack, occurs when blood flow to the brain is disrupted.
Disruption in blood flow is caused when either a blood clot or piece of plaque blocks one of the vital blood vessels in the brain (ischemic stroke), or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, spilling blood into surrounding tissues (hemorrhagic stroke).
The brain needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients in order to function. Even a brief interruption in blood supply can cause problems.
Brain cells begin to die after just a few minutes without blood or oxygen. The area of dead cells in tissues is called an infarct.
Due to both the physical and chemical changes that occur in the brain with stroke, damage can continue to occur for several days. This is called a stroke-in-evolution.
A loss of brain function occurs with brain cell death.
This may include impaired ability with movement, speech, thinking and memory, bowel and bladder, eating, emotional control, and other vital body functions.
Recovery from stroke and the specific ability affected depends on the size and location of the stroke. A small stroke may result in only minor problems such as weakness in an arm or leg.
Larger strokes may cause paralysis (inability to move part of the body), loss of speech, or even death.
According to the National Stroke Association, it is important to learn the three R's of stroke: reduce the risk, recognize the symptoms, and respond by calling 911 (or your local ambulance service).
Stroke is an emergency and should be treated as such. The greatest chance for recovery from stroke occurs when emergency treatment is started immediately.
Stroke is the third largest cause of death, ranking behind diseases of the heart and all forms of cancer.
Strokes kill more than 150,000 Americans each year.
Almost every 45 seconds in the US, a person experiences a stroke.
Nearly 4 million US adults live today with the effects of a stroke.
The American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, estimates strokes cost the US nearly $63 billion a year.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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