A mini stroke, also known as a transient ischemic attack, is exactly what it sounds like. It has all the same signs and symptoms as a “full” stroke, but the effects last less than 24 hours. However, the fact that it resolves relatively quickly can provide a dangerous false comfort and lead patients to believe that, because they feel better, they do not need to seek treatment.
Unfortunately, a mini stroke is a red flag and may be a precursor to a full stroke, and should be treated as a medical emergency. In order to prevent further complications, it is important to be aware of the symptoms and know what to do after a mini stroke in case it happens to you or someone you know.
What Is a Mini Stroke?
A mini stroke, or transient ischemic attack, is a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain, preventing oxygen from being delivered as it should be. This could be due to a blocked blood vessel at the brain itself or a blockage in the neck, such as within the carotid artery. Many people are unaware they have a health issue until a mini stroke even happens.
Because people who have mini strokes will often have a full stroke at a later date, it is important to seek medical treatment to determine the underlying cause and appropriate intervention. The key takeaway when researching what to do after a mini stroke is that seeking treatment as soon as possible can help reduce lifelong effects from the mini stroke and improve the degree of recovery.
What Are the Signs?
In order to recognize a mini stroke, it’s important to know the potential signs and symptoms. If you or someone you know has experienced any of the following, even if the issues resolved on their own, it is important to seek medical assistance immediately.
Symptoms of mini stroke or stroke include:
- Sudden severe headache
- Sudden loss of or blurred vision in one or both eyes
- Trouble walking, talking or understanding
- Difficulty swallowing
- Weakness, tingling or numbness, typically in one side of the body
These symptoms occur because the brain is starving for oxygen and cannot function properly. The damage could be temporary, or it could be irreversible. For anyone experiencing stroke-like symptoms, time is of the essence – it is vital to seek emergency medical assistance immediately.
What to Do After a Mini Stroke?
If the symptoms of a mini stroke are familiar and something you feel you have experienced, it is important that you receive treatment immediately. Even though you may feel that you are better, studies have shown that, unless you seek treatment, you are at a very high risk of having a full-blown stroke. The sooner you intervene, the better. If you ever encounter anyone experiencing mini stroke symptoms, dial 9-1-1 immediately.
It is important to be evaluated as soon as possible following a mini stroke, because you may require emergency treatment in order to prevent or minimize irreversible damage. However, not every patient will need immediate intervention, and you may be referred to a specialist for further evaluation and treatment.
A cerebrovascular neurosurgeon is a specialist who has received extra training and focuses on conditions of the blood vessels that supply the brain. This includes strokes and mini strokes. After your diagnosis, your physician or neurologist will likely refer you to a cerebrovascular neurosurgery practice, where they will perform an examination and diagnostic tests to evaluate the underlying cause and severity of your mini stroke.
What Are Treatments for a Mini Stroke?
The treatment your physician recommends depends entirely upon your individual condition. For some patients, lifestyle modifications are sufficient to prevent a future stroke. These typically include changes aimed at reducing the risk factors that led to the mini stroke in the first place, such as dietary changes, increasing exercise or smoking cessation.
Sometimes patients need medication to help make these changes easier, or sometimes the lifestyle modifications are not enough on their own. Your doctor may recommend prescription medications such as anti-hypertensives, cholesterol-reducing drugs or blood thinners, or an over-the-counter aspirin regimen.
There are also cases where medical intervention is necessary in order to restore healthy blood flow to the brain. What your doctor recommends will depend upon the underlying cause of your mini stroke.
Sometimes the blood vessels running up the side of your neck, your carotid arteries, become blocked or thickened, and blood cannot flow through as it should. A cerebrovascular neurosurgeon can access the blood vessels directly to perform repairs or remove blockages, or they can do a procedure where they insert a stent to hold the blood vessel open. Similarly, if the blood vessels of the brain themselves are blocked, there are surgeries to bypass the damaged area completely or to place a stent and maintain blood flow.
When to Seek Treatment?
Seek treatment immediately. The main takeaway is that a mini stroke, no matter how quickly it seems to resolve, is a medical emergency. If you have experienced mini stroke symptoms, your brain was starved of oxygen for a period of time and was not functioning properly when that happened. Not only are you at a risk of it happening again, but it could be far more severe and even life-threatening.
It is imperative that you seek emergency medical help and follow up with an experienced cerebrovascular specialist to develop the treatment plan that is right for you. Together, you can determine how to prevent future strokes, prevent future damage and even death.