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Know the symptoms of mini-strokes

by Maryalene LaPonsie

Do you know the symptoms of mini-strokes? These transient ischemic attacks or TIAs may be warning signs of future stroke events.

In the United States, a stroke occurs every 40 seconds, and strokes rank as one of the top five causes of death, according to December 2011 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Understandably, caregivers are concerned about the risk for their loved ones.

However, many caregivers do not realize that warning events, commonly known as mini-strokes, often precede strokes. Understanding the symptoms of mini-strokes can give you a better chance of obtaining the medical care your loved one needs before a full stroke occurs.

Basics of mini-strokes

The first thing to understand about mini-strokes is that they technically do not exist. What is commonly called a mini-stroke is actually known medically as a transient ischemic attack or TIA. Despite the difference in name, strokes and TIAs share many of the same symptoms. Where they differ is the long-term effect of each event.

"While a TIA is occurring, you have symptoms but then it goes away," said Jacque Scherfer, a registered nurse and vice president of Best Care, a South Florida home health care provider. "With a stroke, damage has been done."

During a TIA, blood flow to a part of the brain stops temporarily and stroke-like symptoms often occur for one to two hours. In the event of an actual stroke, brain tissue dies and the effects can be permanent.

While TIAs may not cause any long-term damage, they can be warning signs of an imminent stroke. As of 2012, the National Stroke Association estimates that up to 40 percent of those who have a TIA go on to have a stroke, and nearly half of all strokes happen within two days of a mini-stroke.

Five symptoms of mini-strokes

Since the symptoms of a mini-stroke generally pass without leaving any residual damage, these events can be easy to miss if an individual is not under constant supervision. However, caregivers should be on the lookout for any unusual behavior while they are with their loved ones.

Scherfer says the following are all symptoms of a TIA:

  1. Slurred speech
  2. Weakness on one side
  3. Severe headache
  4. Lack of coordination
  5. Facial droop

If an individual normally has very clear speech or good mobility and that suddenly changes, a caregiver should call 911 for immediate medical attention.

"Time is of the essence," said Scherfer. "Know those early warning signs and know to get immediate care."

Beyond reacting to a TIA event quickly, caregivers can also help their loved ones by working to prevent TIAs. Risk factors for strokes for American adults include inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes. The National Stroke Association encourages consulting with a doctor about the best stroke prevention options.

Helping your loved one control any medical conditions and maintain a healthy lifestyle is always wise, especially as you hope you never have to worry about responding to a TIA or stroke.