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"Mini strokes" are a big deal.

What is a mini stroke?

Strokes are commonly understood to be very devastating. Forever losing the ability to speak or walk is something no one would wish to experience. However, not all strokes are as dramatic or long-lived. People sometime use the term "mini stroke" to describe stroke symptoms that are either very mild or temporary. While it may be a fair description, it does not quite capture the urgency needed when a mini stroke occurs.

Mini stroke is most often used to describe a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA). In a TIA, a temporary blockage in an artery deprives part of the brain of oxygen. Yet the body is able to clear the blockage before those brain cells die. People with a TIA get stroke symptoms but the symptoms go away once the blockage clears. The symptoms can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. The temporary nature of the symptoms can lead people into a false sense of a security, believing that the problem is gone. However, a TIA serves more as a warning sign that something bigger may be coming. In fact, after a TIA, 1 in 5 will have a stroke, heart attack, or will die within one year (1).

What should I do if I think I am having a TIA?

Someone who has symptoms of a TIA cannot tell right away if it is actually going to be temporary or not. The best course of action is to call 911 and go to the closest emergency department where a diagnosis can be made. If someone waits to see if the symptoms are going to go away, it may be too late to do anything about when they finally make it to the emergency room. This is why we urge anyone who has symptoms that may be stroke to BE FAST and get help right away.

What should I do if I think I may have had a TIA but my symptoms are already gone?

Remember that it was said above that 1 in 5 individuals who have a TIA will have a stroke, heart attack, or die within one year. Even if the symptoms are gone, it is still important to seek medical attention. If doctors think someone had a TIA, they will do tests to determine the reason why. It might be blood pressure that is too high. It might be an irregular heart rhythm. There might be narrowing in the major arteries in the neck. It might be something else. Knowing the reason why a TIA happens gives doctors and patients something to work with to try to prevent bad things from happening in the future.

What are the symptoms of a TIA?

The symptoms of a TIA are the same as regular stroke symptoms. The symptoms may be more mild and may only last a few minutes. Here are the symptoms.

1. Hill MD, Coutts SB. Preventing stroke after transient ischemic attack. CMAJ. 2011;183(10). doi:10.1503/cmaj.110704.

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Disclaimer: Information on this page is for educational purposes and does not override advice from your physician. Always follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding lifestyle modifications that are right for your individualized health risk.