What is a Mini-Stroke?

A mini-stroke is a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Its symptoms are like a stroke but do not last long.

A TIA is a warning that you are likely going to have a stroke in the future. A TIA happens when blood flow to part of the brain is blocked or reduced, often by a blood clot. After a short time, blood flows again and the symptoms go away. With a stroke, the blood flow stays blocked, and the brain has permanent damage.

If you think you are having a TIA, immediately call 911. Early treatment can help prevent a stroke. If you think you have had a TIA but your symptoms have gone away, you still need to call your doctor right away.

Symptoms of a TIA are the same as symptoms of a stroke but, most of the time, they go away in 10 to 20 minutes. They may include:

  • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or paralysis in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
  • Sudden vision changes.
  • Sudden trouble speaking.
  • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
  • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
  • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.

A blood clot is the most common cause of a TIA. These can be the result of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), heart attack, or abnormal heart rhythms. Brain cells are affected within seconds of the blockage. That causes symptoms in the parts of the body controlled by those cells. After the clot dissolves, blood flow returns, and the symptoms go away.

Sometimes a TIA is caused by a sharp drop in blood pressure that reduces blood flow to the brain. This is called a "low-flow" TIA. It is not as common as other types.

Your doctor will do tests to look at your heart, brain and blood vessels. You may also be prescribed medicines to help prevent a stroke.

After a TIA, you are at risk for having another TIA or a stroke. Lifestyle changes that include diet, exercise and not smoking can reduce risk of stroke and improve overall health. Treat any health problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Take medicines exactly as prescribed by your doctor.

Today’s expert is Donn Fuhrmann, MD, family physician, ThedaCare Physicians-New London.