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What is a mini stroke and how to recognise it

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We take a closer look at the signs of a mini stroke to watch for and how to handle the urgent situation.

What is a mini stroke?

A transient ischaemic attack (TIA), also known as a mini stroke, is caused by a temporary disruption in the blood supply to part of the brain.

The disruption in blood supply results in a lack of oxygen to the brain and can cause sudden symptoms similar to a stroke, such as speech and visual disturbance, numbness and weakness in the face, arms and legs.

TIA does not harm or damage the brain like a stroke does and its effects last only a few minutes to up to 24 hours.

Unlike a stroke, TIA does not kill the brain cells, so there is no damage to the brain in the long term.

However, in the early stages of a TIA, it is hard to differentiate it from a full stroke.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptoms of a TIA can be remembered with the word FAST:

  • Face – the face may have dropped on 1 side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have dropped.
  • Arms – the person may not be able to lift both arms and keep them raised because of weakness or numbness in 1 arm.
  • Speech – their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all, despite appearing to be awake; they may also have problems understanding what you’re saying to them.
  • Time – it’s time to call 999 immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms.

What are the risk factors?

As with many conditions, the older you are the higher your risk for a TIA.

Other risk factors include:

  • smoking
  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • obesity
  • high cholesterol levels
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • atrial fibrillation
  • diabetes

What is the treatment for a TIA?

Although the symptoms of a TIA resolve in a few minutes or hours, treatment is needed to help prevent another TIA or a full stroke happening in the future.

Patients are likely to be given advice about lifestyle changes to reduce their stroke risk as well as medicine to treat the cause of the TIA.

In some cases, a surgery known as carotid endarterectomy may be needed to unblock the carotid arteries – the main blood vessels that supply the brain with blood.

How to prevent a TIA?

According to the NHS, TIA is often a sign that another one may follow, leaving patients at a high risk of having a full, life-threatening stroke in the near future.

Regardless of whether you have had a TIA or stroke in the past, people could lower their risk of having a TIA by:

  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • doing regular exercise
  • limiting alcohol
  • not smoking

When to seek help?

It is important to call 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance if you or someone else has symptoms of a TIA or stroke.

If a TIA is suspected, the patient should be offered aspirin to help prevent a stroke.

Even if the symptoms disappear the patient would still need to be assessed in hospital.

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