How well do you know the symptoms of a stroke?
Data from a new survey led by the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association indicates that more than one-third of all Americans have experienced symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) — sometimes referred to as a “ministroke.”
However, only 3 percent of those individuals sought proper medical attention.
Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States.
A TIA is similar to a stroke, but as its name suggests, it causes only a temporary halt in blood flow to the brain without leading to tissue death (infarction).
Serious effects afterward
While a TIA can occur without causing serious harm, the real danger comes during the period following such an event.
“The risk of stroke during the 90 days after TIA is approximately 10 percent,” Dr. Mitchell S.V. Elkind, a professor of neurology and epidemiology at Columbia University, told Healthline.
However, “The risk is front loaded so that half of that risk occurs during the first 48 hours,” he said.
Many may be familiar with the acronym F.A.S.T. to identify stroke symptoms:
- Face drooping
- Arm weakness
- Speech difficulty
- Time to call 911
However, the signs of TIA are not as easily identifiable.
They include severe headache, dizziness, trouble seeing in one or both eyes, and unexplained confusion.
Despite 35 percent of respondents having reported one or more of these symptoms, most of them (77 percent) had never heard of TIA.
“We know that only 2 to 3 percent of the population has had a physician-diagnosed TIA,” Elkind said. “So the fact that 35 percent in this survey had symptoms consistent with TIA suggests that there is a lot more TIA out there than we had thought.”
The specific symptom of a TIA is also important, as some may be better indicators of a subsequent stroke.
Dr. Joseph Schindler, the clinical director of the Yale New Haven Stroke Center, told Healthline, “Studies have shown that TIA patients who experience language impairment and motor weakness may be at a higher risk for stroke in the near future.”
Higher risk for certain ethnicities
Another important finding from the survey is that TIA risk is disproportionately higher for African-Americans and Hispanics than it is for Caucasians.
Stroke risk is nearly double for African-Americans and they are also more likely to die following a stroke.
Similarly, Elkind says that African-Americans and Hispanics are less likely to have heard of TIA or be able to identify at least one symptom.
“These minority groups are both more likely to have had the symptoms of a TIA and less likely to seek help — a potentially very dangerous situation,” he said.
Seeking help quickly
While TIA may not cause any permanent damage at the time of occurrence, it is still essential to seek medical attention, even if the symptoms don’t seem serious.
Strokes are preventable, but timing is key.
People brought to an emergency room within the first three hours of experiencing symptoms have significantly better outcomes than those who arrive later.
Paying attention to TIAs can potentially give you an advantage in identifying a stroke before it happens.
“A TIA can be a blessing in disguise because it sends a warning that something isn’t right so you can hopefully stop a stroke before it ever happens,” said Elkind.
“If you or someone you know does have a sign of TIA or stroke, the most important thing to do is get help right away,” he added “Stroke is largely treatable thanks to medical advancements like a clot-busting drug and medical devices like stent retrievers. The key to getting treatment is getting help in time.”