Issue 6 Stories
On-Call Advice

What are ministrokes, and how serious are they?

A stroke is an irreversible injury to the brain that occurs due to a blocked artery. Brain tissue affected by the blockage does not receive the oxygen and nutrients it needs to survive, and will ultimately die if blood flow is not restored quickly enough. Symptoms vary, depending upon the area of the brain affected, and can include weakness, numbness, slurred speech, difficulty with understanding or generating speech, dizziness, or vision loss.

The term “ministroke” can be confusing, as it is often used to describe two separate conditions: either a stroke that causes a permanent injury to the brain and results in mild symptoms, or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is a temporary disruption of blood flow to some region of the brain that does not last long enough to cause permanent brain damage.

Symptoms caused by a TIA generally last from several minutes up to 24 hours, and brain scans performed around the time the patient is experiencing symptoms usually show no visible evidence of a permanent injury. However, these episodes of transient stroke symptoms often foreshadow a more serious, permanent stroke syndrome—an estimated 10-15 percent of patients who experience a TIA will have a stroke within three months of these warning episodes.

Seeking immediate medical care is crucial with any signs or symptoms of stroke, even if they resolve quickly. The treatment for acute stroke is time-sensitive, and patients who don’t receive medical attention promptly may not be able to receive medications that can help salvage brain tissue—a missed opportunity that can result in death or significant disability. Despite recent medical advancements, ischemic stroke is still a leading cause of disability in the United States.

Risk factors for ministroke are similar to those for stroke. Older people have a higher risk for TIAs and strokes, as do those with a close relative who has had a stroke. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, carotid artery or peripheral artery disease, smoking, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle. Men are more at risk than women, and African Americans have a higher risk than those of other ethnic groups.

People with risk factors, as well as their family members and associates, should learn the signs and symptoms of stroke and be prepared to seek medical attention by calling 911 as soon as they or someone they know exhibits these signs.

For every minute that a stroke goes untreated, about 2 million brain cells die. ALWAYS take the signs of stroke seriously, and seek medical attention immediately.

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