Guest blog post by Dr Dale Webb, Director of Research and Information, at the Stroke Association
Action on Stroke Month is here, and this May the focus of our latest campaign is TIA
(transient ischaemic attack, also known as mini-stroke). A TIA is the same as a stroke, except that the symptoms last for a short amount of time and no longer than 24 hours. Anyone experiencing the fleeting symptoms of a TIA should call 999 immediately.
Why have we decided to put the spotlight on TIA? Because a greater understanding of this all-too-often overlooked condition could save lives. Taking urgent action when a TIA strikes could save over 3,000 lives each year and prevent 10,000 strokes.
Our latest report, Not just a funny turn, is based on a snapshot survey of 670 people who have experience of TIA. Its findings reveal a number of unavoidable truths about TIA. We now know that thousands of people are putting themselves at high risk of a stroke, as they fail to recognise the early warning signs, and that TIA patients are not receiving the treatment they need from healthcare professionals. Almost one in five (16%) of people felt they weren’t taken seriously when they described their symptoms, and 31% agreed that healthcare professionals are too quick to dismiss TIA as ‘just a funny turn. These findings have serious implications for the health and well-being of our nation, as one in 20 people will go on to have a major stroke within two days of having a TIA.
Previous research suggests that around 46,000 people have their first TIA every year in the UK, although the Stroke Association estimates that figure could be much, much higher. Our report revealed half of people we surveyed did not recognise the symptoms of their TIA. Someone having a TIA may typically experience one or more of the FAST stroke symptoms (facial droop, arm weakness, slurred speech). Less common symptoms may include transient confusion, visual disturbance, vertigo or loss of coordination, and these symptoms often last for just a short time. As a result, these early warning signs have often vanished completely by the time a patient sees a health professional, and in many cases people dismiss a TIA as ‘just a funny turn.’
Research into TIA is vital. Twenty years ago, stroke research was largely neglected by other funding agencies. Through our early and continued investment, we have established a strong community of stroke researchers. The Stroke Association is proud to have taken a lead role in the investigation of stroke prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. For example, we funded research conducted by Professor Peter Rothwell at the University of Oxford which led to the development of the ABCD score – a way to assess whether someone who has had a TIA is at risk of having a stroke. The UK is now a world-leader in the field of stroke research, second only to the USA. But there is still much to do.
It’s a sad fact that although stroke is the third biggest killer in the UK, funding for stroke research seriously lags behind cancer and coronary heart disease. For every cancer patient living in the UK, £295 is spent each year on medical research, compared with just £22 a year for every stroke patient. We want stroke to have the same access as other major diseases to cutting edge research, the best people and resources. Whilst Not just a funny turn has significantly improved our knowledge about the devastating impact of TIA, there is more we can do to help people avoid the devastating impact of stroke.
When asked about the impact of their TIA, 45% of people we surveyed reported that their TIA had affected them physically and over half (65%) reported emotional effects. Although for the majority, these effects were over in 24 hours, for some the impact was felt months or even years later. Previously it was thought that TIAs are by their very nature transient and therefore have no long-term impact. Clearly we need more research into this important question.
Our Not just a funny turn report uncovers the formidable challenge we face in getting people to understand just how serious TIA can be. A better understanding of the condition, its long-term effects and the treatments available, will help us ensure that the thousands affected by TIA can make their best possible recovery.
For more information about Action on Stroke Month and the Not just a funny turn campaign, visit www.stroke.org.uk/strokemonth