What are Mini Strokes?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Mini strokes are also called transient ischemic attacks (TIA). Don’t let the idea that these are called “mini” fool you into thinking they’re not dangerous. Roughly 30% of people who suffer a mini-stroke will later suffer a full stroke, and if you believe you’ve had one, you should get immediate medical care.

Mini strokes may be diagnosed with an MRI.
Mini strokes may be diagnosed with an MRI.

Symptoms of mini strokes include sudden loss of balance, weakness on one side of the body, sudden blindness and speech difficulties. In most cases when you suffer a stroke, these symptoms will persist. With these small strokes, symptoms may be gone in a few minutes or a few hours. They are caused by the blood flow to the brain being temporarily interrupted or significantly reduced.

The human brain, including blood vessels that can be involved in a stroke.
The human brain, including blood vessels that can be involved in a stroke.

Some things that may cause mini strokes include hardening or narrowing arteries that supply blood to the brain. Sometimes plaque buildup in the veins can temporarily affect flow or a blood clot moves from somewhere else to the brain, but it is small enough to break up quickly or only partially occludes blood supply.

A sedentary lifestyle can lead to a mini stroke.
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to a mini stroke.

There are a number of risk factors for mini strokes. These include if you have a family history of transient ischemic attacks, and if you have had a TIA before. People who smoke, who are overweight or who have heart disease or high blood pressure are also at risk. High cholesterol, atherosclerosis, and even certain types of blood disorder that cause high platelet level may make people more at risk. Men seem more prone to get these attacks than do women, and there are other conditions that can make people at greater risk for mini strokes.

Aspirin is sometimes prescribed in an effort to prevent blood clots.
Aspirin is sometimes prescribed in an effort to prevent blood clots.

Many conditions that can cause a TIA can be controlled through behavior modification and medication. For instance, one causal factor can be a sedentary lifestyle and this can be changed. Other potential risk factors are not changeable. People who have had heart surgery and had valves replaced with artificial ones may be more at risk than others, but at the least, they can change behavior in terms of living a healthy lifestyle to somewhat reduce additional risk factors.

Smokers are at a high risk of a mini stroke.
Smokers are at a high risk of a mini stroke.

People should see a doctor immediately if they suspect they are having a mini-stroke. There are several ways doctors can confirm diagnosis. People will have blood tests and may undergo a number of tests to identify cause. These tests can include echocardiograms, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT) scans to look at the heart, the major arteries, and the brain.

Mini stroke symptoms may include speech difficulties.
Mini stroke symptoms may include speech difficulties.

When diagnosis is confirmed, doctors can help to prevent further TIAs through a combination of medication and other therapies. If an artery is reduced in size, surgery may be required to avoid formation of blood clots or reduced blood flow. Many people take anti-coagulants like warfarin or sometimes aspirin to reduce risk of additional blood clots. People will also be advised to eat a healthy diet, reduce sodium intake, cut fat intake, quit smoking if they smoke, and get exercise.

Numbness and the inability to move a limb on one side of the body could be signs of a mini stroke.
Numbness and the inability to move a limb on one side of the body could be signs of a mini stroke.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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