May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and it’s essential to recognize the warning signs of a stroke, especially a mini-stroke. While mini-strokes are rarely life-threatening, they could indicate that something more serious is going on that demands medical attention.
In the United States, stroke is both the fifth leading cause of death and the primary cause of disability.
By understanding what mini-strokes are and what they foreshadow, you can take proactive measures to reduce the risk of major strokes, prioritize your health, and make informed decisions regarding lifestyle changes and medical interventions to prevent potential long-term disabilities.
Below is what you need to know about recognizing the signs and symptoms of a mini-stroke so you can seek medical care immediately if one occurs.
What are Mini-Strokes?
A mini-stroke, or transient ischemic attack (TIA), is a temporary blockage or clot of blood flow to the brain.
The clot usually dissolves on its own and the symptoms generally last less than 5 minutes, but like any other kind of clot, a TIA is a medical emergency.
How Do Mini-Strokes Differ from Full-Blown Strokes?
The two main types of strokes are ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke. Ischemic strokes occur when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain, while hemorrhagic strokes happen when a blood vessel ruptures, leading to bleeding in the brain.
TIA’s are smaller ischemic strokes that happen briefly and generally do not cause permanent damage. TIA’s are also dubbed “warning strokes,” because a full-blown stroke is increasingly likely afterward.
Ischemic strokes make up 87% of all strokes, and as many as 17% of people who suffer from a TIA will have a full ischemic stroke within 90 days. The first week following a TIA carries the highest risk for a possible full-blown stroke.
Read also: Stroke 101: Types, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments
Common Warning Signs of a Mini-stroke
It can be difficult to differentiate between mini-strokes and other common ailments such as migraines. Understanding these subtle signs can make all the difference in getting proper care quickly.
Mini-strokes can appear as:
- Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body
- Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
- Vision problems
- Dizziness or loss of balance
- Sudden severe headache
- Confusion or disorientation
- Difficulty swallowing
If you or someone you know shows any of the signs indicating a mini-stroke, do not hesitate to seek immediate medical attention, as acting promptly can substantially decrease the likelihood of long-term disability and improve the chances of a positive outcome.
Risk Factors for Mini-strokes
Being aware and staying informed of any potential risk factors for mini-strokes is essential for optimal health and well-being. Knowing what to look out for can ensure that proper preventative measures can be taken if necessary.
High blood pressure or hypertension
Hypertension develops when blood flows through your arteries with too much force, putting pressure on those arteries. High blood pressure is known as “the silent killer” due to having no obvious symptoms. Likewise, it is the leading cause of stroke.
During digestion, most of the food we consume is converted into glucose, which provides energy for our bodies. However, individuals with diabetes face challenges in producing sufficient insulin, resulting in high blood glucose levels that can contribute to the formation of blood clots over time.
Smoking damages the lining of your blood vessels, making them more susceptible to clogging. It also thickens your blood and raises your blood pressure, which are two major contributing factors that can cause a stroke.
High levels of cholesterol, the waxy substance found in your blood, can place you at greater risk for a stroke. When too much of it accumulates, fatty buildups can form in your arteries, reducing the blood flow to your brain and causing a stroke.
Being overweight or obese can lead to the accumulation of plaque in the arteries, increasing the risk of a blood clot. Additionally, excess fat tissue can cause hypertension and diabetes, both of which can further increase the risk of a stroke.
Genetics and family history
Those with a history of strokes or any previously mentioned risks in their family are more likely to experience a TIA or stroke than those that don’t.
Read also: How to Prevent Heart Disease at Any Age
What to Do If You Suspect a Mini-stroke
If you suspect a mini-stroke, it is crucial to act quickly. The BE-FAST acronym can help you remember the signs and symptoms to look for.
- Balance – loss of balance, headache, or dizziness
- Eyes – blurred vision
- Face – one side of the face is drooping
- Arms – arm or leg weakness
- Speech – speech difficulty
- Time – time to call for an ambulance immediately
Do not ignore symptoms and seek medical attention immediately. Remember, every minute counts when it comes to preventing severe damage caused by mini-strokes.
Prevention of Mini-Strokes
What many people don’t realize is that up to 80% of strokes can be prevented through lifestyle changes and medication management.
You can greatly reduce the risk of a stroke by making small but important changes to your daily habits and effectively managing chronic conditions like high blood pressure. This includes adopting healthy habits like limiting smoking and alcohol, staying physically active, managing stress, and maintaining a balanced diet.
Read also: Heart Healthy Lifestyle & Diet
The most common form of preventative medication for strokes is antiplatelet and anticoagulant therapy. These treatments are used to halt the formation of a blood clot or impede a clot’s growth and are primarily recommended for those who have experienced a TIA or acute ischemic stroke.
Antiplatelet medications are specifically designed to prevent the formation of blood clots. Among the widely used, readily available, affordable, and effective options is acetylsalicylic acid, commonly known as Aspirin. Although accessible, do not take any form of medication without prior approval from your doctor.
Anticoagulants slow clot formation by targeting clotting factors, such as Vitamin K, and is recommended primarily to those who have a higher risk of stroke. Although more effective, this form of treatment tends to be more intensive and sensitive than its counterparts.
If you’re concerned about what lifestyle changes or preventative medications you can take, consult with a cardiologist near you to develop a plan tailored to your needs.
Recognizing the signs of a mini-stroke, understanding the risk factors involved, and implementing preventive measures are essential. If you require a cardiologist in Lafayette, LA, you can contact Dr. Thomas for professional assistance.