Aside from being a leading cause of death in the United States, strokes can cause lasting disability and damage to the brain if they aren’t treated in a timely manner.
Many people think of a stroke as a single medical problem, but the reality is that there are actually three distinct types of strokes. The three types of strokes are ischemic stroke, hemorrhagic stroke, and transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is more commonly known as a mini-stroke.
Out of all the types of strokes to have, a TIA is the least severe — but it should not be overlooked, as it can often signal a future cardiovascular event and a potential underlying problem. Below is a closer look at this specific type of stroke and its symptoms, causes, and methods for prevention.
Strokes occur when a portion of the brain is starved of oxygen and nutrients due to a lack of blood supply. This lack of blood flow can be caused by internal bleeding or blockages in the blood vessels, and results in brain cell deah that can affect overall quality of life.
A mini-stroke, better known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), is a brief interruption of blood flow to a part of the brain that resolves on its own. The symptoms of a mini-stroke closely resemble those of a full stroke but typically resolve after a few hours.
The largest thing that differentiates a stroke from a mini-stroke is the amount of time brain tissue is starved of oxygen and whether or not it is resolved on its own. Mini-strokes rarely cause lasting damage, while a full stroke can cause lasting damage that may require an immense amount of rehabilitation.
While these two kinds of stroke are different, it is important to note that the symptoms of both a mini-stroke and a full stroke are nearly identical. When you notice stroke-like symptoms, it is imperative that you get timely medical attention.
Getting immediate transport to a hospital is the best move, as the best-case scenario is that the emergency providers diagnose you with a TIA and set you up with a preventative treatment plan. Worst case, they can scan your brain, diagnose your type of stroke, and begin treatment as soon as possible.
The time it takes to get definitive treatment can mean the difference between permanent brain damage and a full recovery.
Many people remember the symptoms of stroke by using the acronym F.A.S.T., which stands for facial droop, arm weakness, speech difficulties, and time to call 911. The acronym is meant to help people identify the early warning signs of all strokes, including mini-strokes.
Recognizing these signs and symptoms early and getting timely care can improve long-term outcomes, save lives, and reduce the chances of permanent damage to the brain tissue.
While a TIA tends not to cause lasting damage, it should be treated as a medical emergency until otherwise indicated by a neurologist. A TIA can be confirmed by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI Scan) or computerized tomography scan (CT scan).
Below is a closer look at the common signs of stroke, as well as some other potential symptoms of a stroke.
One of the most common symptoms of a mini-stroke is numbness or paralysis of the face, which can affect one or both sides. A good way to assess whether facial droop is present is to ask the individual to smile while showing their teeth.
Another common symptom of a mini-stroke is slurred speech. This can be caused by a disruption in the flow of blood to the speech centers of the brain.
This sign can be assessed by having the individual repeat a simple phrase back to you. If it is incoherent or if it is repeated back to you out of order, it may indicate a stroke or mini-stroke.
Another common symptom of a stroke is single-sided weakness. Typically this weakness is experienced in the arms, but it can also be present in the legs.
A good test to see if this is present is to have the individual hold out both of their arms in front of them. If one of their arms falls on the affected side of the body, it may indicate a stroke.
Vertigo is a less common symptom, but it can occur if the stroke is located around the brainstem, which helps to control functions like balance. Vertigo or loss of balance alone may not be enough to determine if a stroke is occurring, but if it occurs alongside other stroke symptoms like a sudden severe headache, you should see a healthcare provider right away.
Vision problems are other lesser-known symptoms that can accompany a stroke. If blood flow is restricted to the regions of the brain that involve the perception and interpretation of signals coming from the retina, this can cause vision problems such as blurred vision, one-sided blindness, or double vision.
A TIA tends to be caused by a small blood clot that travels to the brain and temporarily disrupts blood flow until it is dislodged a few minutes later. Blood clots can be caused by a wide variety of conditions and circumstances.
One of the leading causes of blood clot formation in the body has to do with cardiovascular health.
If you have conditions such as high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and atrial fibrillation, you may be more likely to develop plaque in your arteries or form clots in your blood. Plaque deposits in your arteries can become dislodged, flow through your circulatory system, and get stuck in the brain, which can contribute to a stroke.
Other variables that can generally put you at a higher risk of stroke include some medications, a recent surgical procedure, deep vein thrombosis, clotting disorders, family history, and prolonged immobility.
Strokes are a medical emergency that can be life-threatening, but they are also highly preventable in a majority of cases. Aside from medically prescribed prevention, such as taking an antiplatelet, there are a number of ways you can help mitigate the chances of a future stroke through making positive lifestyle changes.
A diet that is disproportionately high in saturated and trans fats, sodium, and calories can have a direct negative impact on your cardiovascular health and can significantly increase risk factors for future stroke or heart attack.
Maintaining a balanced diet is all about getting a good proportion of protein, carbohydrates, and fats from quality sources. Eating a diet that mainly consists of whole foods and making heart-healthy food choices can significantly help support your cardiovascular system and help to reduce the chances of clot formation.
Implementing regular physical activity can be another great way to prevent future strokes while simultaneously improving your overall health. Getting aerobic exercise on a regular basis is a great way to support your cardiovascular system and reduce your risk factors for stroke.
Getting regular exercise is an important lifestyle change to make, but it is also important to clear this with your doctor before starting any exercise regimen.
If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation, or other cardiovascular diseases that increase your risk of stroke, it is important to work with your healthcare provider to manage these conditions. This may involve taking medication and simultaneously making lifestyle changes.
Making heart-healthy lifestyle modifications on your own can be quite difficult and can leave you feeling overwhelmed — this is why many doctors opt to enroll their patients in a cardiac rehabilitation program.
Cardiac rehab is a program that is tailored to help patients make the lasting heart-healthy lifestyle modifications they need to reduce risk factors for severe health issues like stroke. This is accomplished through a combination of patient education, patient support, and tailor-made exercise programs designed to effectively and safely improve cardiovascular health.
Carda Health is a virtual cardiac rehab provider that provides all of these services digitally. If eligible, you will be paired with your own exercise physiologist, who can work with you to help you make changes to your lifestyle that will have lasting impacts.
A mini-stroke should not be ignored. While a TIA may not cause permanent brain damage, it is still an indicator of a serious underlying health issue that needs to be addressed.
If you experience any of the symptoms of a mini-stroke, it is important to seek medical attention immediately, as the only way to tell a mini-stroke from a full stroke is through examination by a trained healthcare professional.