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Mini-Strokes Signal Imminent Danger of a Real Stroke

A new study in this week's The Journal of the American Medical Association found that mini-strokes need to be taken much more seriously. Health correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports on the findings of the study, and explains what a mini-stroke is. She also talks about symptoms and who's most at risk of suffering a full-blown stroke.

Symptoms of a mini-stroke, also called a transient ischemic attack, or T-I-A, usually go away within a matter of minutes to hours leaving no permanent neurological damage. It's long been known that T-I-As can be a signal that a larger, more damaging stroke is imminent.

A new study now says that a mini stroke is a much bigger danger sign than previously thought. In the study 10% of those who had T-I-As went on to have a major stroke within the next 90 days. But, what most surprised the researchers was that half of the strokes occurred within two days of the T-I-A.

Currently, are people who have these T-I-As treated in hospitals?

No. In this study only 14% were hospitalized. And 8% received no subsequent treatment at all, that is treatment to protect from a more serious stroke later. The point of the article is that the risk for a full-blown stroke is actually very soon after the mini-stroke has occurred. So instead of trying to figure out why the stroke occurred through a series of tests outside the hospital, it is better to figure out the cause much sooner and begin a course of treatment.

What are the symptoms if a mini-stroke? How do you know if you are having a T-I-A?

The fact is that the symptoms can indeed be vague. And it can certainly be the case that people have these symptoms do not realize the cause at all and do not seek medical attention. Basic symptoms include weakness, numbness, confusion, and change in vision or speech, vertigo, and trouble walking. If a person has these symptoms, it is in fact an emergency and they should call 911.

If you get treated can you prevent a larger stroke from happening?

The answer to that is twofold. It depends on the cause of the T-I-A. And part of the reason that you need to get to the hospital is that physicians need to figure out why it happened. Because there can be numerous causes for T-I-As. Once the cause has been established, a course of treatment can be decided upon. This can include everything from a simple aspirin to more sophisticated drugs to thin the blood, to even surgery to clear blocked arteries.

Who are at risk for mini-strokes?

As people get older, the risk goes up. A previous history of stroke or heart disease puts a person in a higher risk category. A history of heart arrhythmia, diabetes, smoking, overweight, and high blood pressure also puts a person in a higher risk category.

If you have any of the symptoms that I mentioned whether they go away or not, you need to go to the hospital. If it is a stroke then there is very good treatment including clot-busting drugs that can actually save your life. So don' sit around and hope for symptoms to pass. Go to the hospital.

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