Experts urge immediate action for stroke symptoms
About 35 percent of people who answered a new survey said they’ve had at least one symptom of a “mini- stroke” – also known as transient ischemic attack (TIA) or a warning stroke — according to new research from the American Stroke Association.
Perhaps more troubling is that only 3 percent of the 2,040 American adults surveyed said they sought medical help as a result of the symptom. Most chose to wait and see, rest or take medicine instead of calling 911, according to the survey.
“Since TIA has the same symptoms as a stroke, you’ve got to call an ambulance immediately,” said community stroke educator Maricela Wilson, RN, BSN of Seton Healthcare Family. Seton is part of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system.
Doctors have to perform brain imaging, usually either magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) scans, to distinguish whether someone is having a warning stroke or the real thing.
Stroke is the No. 5 cause of death in the U.S. and a leading cause of serious, long-term disability.
“Mini-stroke”: A harbinger of trouble
TIA is a temporary stoppage of blood flow to the brain. It’s caused by a blocked blood vessel or a brain clot. Symptoms tend to last for less than five minutes; on average, they run about a minute long.
The clot may dissolve by itself or just get dislodged. Because TIA doesn’t cause permanent damage, many people tend to dismiss symptoms.
“It’s dangerous to just ignore a TIA. The reason it’s sometimes called a ‘warning stroke’ is because it literally warns you of your risk of having a stroke. So unless you control your risk factors and take the right medications, you’re very likely to have a full-blown stroke in the future,” Wilson said.
In fact, about a third of people who have a TIA end up having a more severe stroke within a year, according to the American Stroke Association. And up to 40 percent of people who have the most common type of stroke (ischemic stroke) say they have had a TIA before.
Earlier treatment means better results
The sooner you are diagnosed, the better your outcomes, too. For example, if you get to the hospital within three hours of having stroke symptoms, and if brain imaging shows that a clot is blocking a blood vessel, a clot-busting drug known as tPA may be used to dissolve the blood clot.
A study from the New England Journal of Medicine shows that people who receive tPA are 30 percent more likely to have no or very little disability three months afterward.
Learn to recognize stroke warning signs
“Don’t be concerned about whether you’re having a stroke or a ‘mini-stroke’,” Wilson said. “Time loss is brain loss, so knowing how to recognize the symptoms can be a matter of life or death.”
Stroke warning signs include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of your body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
Remember “F.A.S.T.” – Face drooping. Arm weakness. Speech difficulty. Time to call 9-1-1.