A ministroke is also known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). It occurs when part of the brain experiences a temporary lack of blood flow. This causes stroke-like symptoms that resolve within 24 hours. Unlike a stroke, a TIA doesn’t kill brain tissue or cause permanent disabilities. Since symptoms of a TIA and a stroke are nearly identical, you should seek immediate emergency attention if you experience any symptoms.
Knowing the signs of a TIA or ministroke can help you get the treatment you need as early as possible. Because 1 in 3 people who experience a TIA later experience a stroke, early treatment is essential.
It can be difficult to identify that you’ve had a TIA, but a few symptoms may indicate a ministroke. The symptoms may be fleeting.
The most common symptoms of a TIA are:
- vision changes
- dysphasia (trouble speaking)
- balance issues
- an altered level of consciousness
- passing out
- an abnormal sense of taste
- an abnormal sense of smell
- weakness or numbness on just one side of the body or face, determined by the location of the blood clot in the brain
Call 911 or go to the emergency room if you’re having any of these symptoms.
People with a TIA may temporarily find themselves unable to speak. After a TIA, people may tell their doctor that they had difficulty recalling words during the event. Other speech problems may include trouble saying a word or trouble understanding words.
This condition is called dysphasia. In fact, dysphasia is sometimes the only symptom of a ministroke. Trouble speaking indicates that the blockage or blood clot that caused the ministroke occurred in the dominant brain hemisphere.
Temporary blindness in one eye
Sometimes, a TIA manifests as a particular visual disturbance known as transient monocular blindness (TMB). In TMB, a person’s vision in one eye becomes suddenly dimmed or obscured. The world turns gray or objects look blurry. This may last for seconds or minutes. Exposure to bright light can aggravate TMB. You may not be able to read words on white pages.
The symptoms of a TIA can last as briefly as one minute. Often, the symptoms are gone by the time you get to a doctor. Your symptoms may not be present while a doctor evaluates you, so you have to describe the event after your symptoms have disappeared.
Symptoms that come on suddenly and without warning could signify a stroke. The term “FAST” is an abbreviation to help you recognize some common stroke symptoms.
|F for face||If you notice a droop or uneven smile on a person’s face, this is a warning sign.|
|A for arms||Arm numbness or weakness can be a warning sign. You can ask the person to raise their arms if you are unsure. It’s a warning sign if the arm drops down or isn’t steady.|
|S for speech difficulty||Ask the person to repeat something. Slurred speech can indicate that the person is having a stroke.|
|T for time||Act fast if someone is experiencing stroke symptoms. Call 911.|
Call 911 if you or someone around you has any of these symptoms.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure can damage the inner walls of the arteries. This creates plaque that can rupture and lead to blood clots in these arteries. These abnormalities can lead to a ministroke or stroke. If your doctor has diagnosed you with high blood pressure, it’s important to keep track of your blood pressure on a routine basis. You should invest in a home blood pressure monitor to check your blood pressure.
Sometimes, people have what’s called “white coat hypertension.” This means that your blood pressure can be higher than usual in your doctor’s office due to anxiety about having your blood pressure checked. Keeping track of your blood pressure at home can give your doctor a more accurate assessment of your typical blood pressure. This information helps them adjust your blood pressure medications more effectively.
If you have an at-home machine, you should check your blood pressure immediately if you experience any of the following:
- lack of coordination
- gait disturbance
If you don’t have a way to check your blood pressure at home, you should call your doctor immediately or go to a local urgent care center or emergency room.
Other risk factors
Other risk factors for TIA and stroke include:
- high cholesterol
- atrial fibrillation
According to one study, men are more likely than women to experience TIAs, older people are also more at risk than younger people, and TIAs are reported most frequently on Mondays.
A TIA doesn’t lead to permanent brain damage, but you still need an urgent medical examination if you have symptoms of a TIA. That’s because the symptoms are identical to the symptoms of a stroke, and it isn’t possible for you to tell whether they are related to a TIA or a stroke. The distinction requires a medical evaluation.
TIA symptoms are temporary and don’t cause permanent damage to brain tissue. Stroke symptoms are permanent and do result in permanent damage to brain tissue. However, stroke symptoms may improve with time. Having a TIA puts you at risk of a stroke, because TIAs and strokes have the same cause.
The only way to tell the difference between a TIA and a stroke is by having a doctor look at an image of your brain with either a CT scan or an MRI.
If you’ve had a stroke, it’s likely that it won’t show up on a CT scan of your brain for 24 to 48 hours. An MRI usually shows a stroke sooner. In evaluating the cause of the TIA or stroke, you’ll need an ultrasound to see if there’s significant blockage or plaque in your carotid arteries. You’ll also need an echocardiogram to look for blood clots in your heart. Your doctor may also take an ECG and chest X-ray.
Several treatment options are available. TIAs don’t cause lasting brain tissue damage or disabilities, but they can be an early warning sign, or precursor, for a stroke. Treatment for TIAs focuses on starting or adjusting medications that improve blood flow to the brain. It also requires identifying abnormalities that your doctor can fix to reduce your risk of future TIAs or strokes.
Treatment options include:
These medications make your platelets less likely to stick together to prevent blood clots. Antiplatelet drugs include:
These medications prevent blood clots by targeting proteins that cause clotting, rather than targeting the platelets. This category includes:
If you’re taking warfarin, you’ll need close monitoring with blood tests to make sure you have the correct dosage. Drugs like Xarelto and Eliquis don’t require monitoring.
Minimally invasive carotid intervention
This is a surgical procedure that involves accessing the carotid arteries with a catheter. The catheter is inserted through the femoral artery in your groin. The doctor uses a balloon-like device to open up clogged arteries. They will place a stent or small wire tube inside the artery at the point of narrowing to improve blood flow to the brain.
You may need surgery to prevent future strokes. If you have a severe narrowing of the carotid artery in your neck and aren’t a candidate for a carotid angioplasty and stenting, your doctor may recommend a surgery called a carotid endarterectomy. In the procedure, your doctor clears the carotid arteries of fatty deposits and plaques. This can reduce the risk of another TIA or a stroke.
Lifestyle changes may be necessary to reduce your risk of future TIAs or strokes. Medications and other medical interventions may not be enough. These lifestyle changes include:
- losing weight
- reducing your sodium intake
- eating more fruits and vegetables
- reducing your intake of fried or sugary foods
- getting enough sleep
- reducing stress
- improving your control of other medical conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol
TIAs and other types of strokes are sometimes unavoidable, but you can take precautions to help prevent TIAs. Follow these TIA and stroke prevention tips.
- Don’t smoke.
- Avoid secondhand smoke.
- Eat a healthy diet with more fruits and vegetables.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Limit your alcohol intake.
- Don’t use illicit drugs.
- Control your diabetes.
- Reduce your sodium intake.
- Limit your cholesterol and fat intake, especially saturated and trans fats.
- Make sure your blood pressure is under good control.
- Reduce stress.