There’s nothing small about a mini-stroke

Guest Blog by Dr Shamim Quadir, Research Communications Manager, Stroke Association

???????????????????????????????In May, the Stroke Association came together with many of the top researchers in the field of mini-stroke and stroke, stroke policy makers, and people who had first-hand experience of mini-strokes. A mini-stroke is also known as a transient ischaemic attack (TIA). We all took part in a round-table discussion and debate, which covered the many aspects of mini-stroke, and established what the emerging priorities are for research and prevention of this condition.

Despite mini-stroke affecting over 46,000 people every year, many people still misunderstand what a mini-stroke actually is. For example, we heard about patients who had experienced a mini-stroke on a weekend and thought they could wait until the following weekday to get themselves checked out, oblivious to their immediate danger. We also heard that 90% of all mini-strokes are spotted by bystanders, and not the person themselves. It’s clear that increased knowledge and understanding of mini-stroke amongst the general public could help to save lives.

So what exactly is the ‘mini’ bit that makes mini-stroke different from a stroke? Is mini-stroke simply the same as a stroke but, as the common definition suggests, lasts less than 24 hours? Using that logic, would this mean that a mini-stroke lasting 25 hours automatically turns into a stroke?  And what about the symptoms of a mini-stroke? Are they just harmless, forgettable, imitations of a bona-fide stroke?

The truth is that a mini-stroke is always a medical emergency. It’s a warning sign that a person is at imminent risk of a stroke. The risk is greatest in the first few days, and within a week more than one in 12 people who have had one will go on to have a full stroke.

You see, most strokes happen when the blood flow to part of the brain is cut off by a blood clot. The blood clot blocks a blood vessel supplying the brain, and this causes brain cells to die, which will often cause permanent disability or death. In a mini-stroke the only difference is that the clot either dissolves on its own or moves. That’s all. You might say, ‘well the clot’s gone, what a relief!’ But that neglects the critical question of why the clot formed in the first place. If it has moved, where did it go? Will it be back? Could there be another one, and what can be done?

Typically, the term mini-stroke (or TIA) is used for strokes where the symptoms experienced are subtle, seem to pass within a few minutes, and have no apparent, long term effects that would be noticeable using standard check-ups. As symptoms are fleeting, many people dismiss them as ‘just a funny turn’, and not something to worry about. It may only be after they have had a mini-stroke diagnosed, or gone on to survive a full stroke, that the penny drops – many people realise that they’ve been on the same path for quite some time, and acknowledge previous ‘funny turns’ as the mini-strokes they were. It was also agreed at our round-table that a lot more is known about mini-stroke than is currently being put into practice for patient benefit  Healthcare professionals need to ensure they take on board what research has already told us about this and put it into practice consistently.

Remember, a mini-stroke (or TIA) is ‘not just a funny turn’. Don’t ignore it. Get it treated urgently.

To find out more about our round-table discussion and to read the full report, visit the Stroke Association website.

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