It has long been believed that so-called mini-strokes don’t cause much long-term damage. A new report out of Canada, however, finds that many people who have suffered a small stroke continue to live with long-lasting and serious disabilities. Despite this, a mini-stroke is still considered to be too mild a problem to even treat. This research report, published in Stroke, shows that it’s time to find a new approach to treating smaller strokes rather than leaving patients untreated.
After a massive stroke, patients are typically given a medication known as tissue plasminogen activators, or tPA, to help blood begin to flow to the brain again. This finding shows that people having a mild stroke, or TIA, could also gain important benefits from the same treatment.
According to the lead researcher, Dr. Shelaugh Coutts, nearly 4 out of every 5 stroke victims have mild strokes while only 20% have what’s known as a major stroke. He explains that more of these patients need to go to the emergency room quickly for treatment to receive the same benefits of these life-saving drugs.
The team of researchers discovered that, out of 500 total patients with a mild stroke (TIA), 15% went on to experience some type of mild disability for at least 3 months post-stroke. The researchers counted as mild disability as one that keeps a person from doing the same things they could before, including driving, without limiting their ability to attend to personal matters.
The researchers also performed CT scans on patients and found that some had narrowed blood vessels in their brain. Some had problems that got worse or failed to alleviate. The team discovered that people with these types of problems were 2x more likely to continue experiencing disability 90 days post-stroke. They also believe these people would see the most benefit from a clot-breaking medication like tPA that’s currently administered to patients suffering a massive stroke.
A bit surprisingly, the team also identified during their study two groups more likely to suffer disability after a mini stroke: women and people with type 2 diabetes.
Mini-strokes also cause the brain to get less oxygen, which can dramatically increase the risk for a future, larger stroke.
People who suffer from more than 1 TIA have the highest chance of suffering from a disability: 53% compared to only 12% of people who have only one mini-stroke.
Researchers are quick to call this report a wake-up call to people that mini-strokes need to be treated just like major strokes. It’s also important for both doctors and patients to take all symptoms serious, even symptoms that seem minor or go away. People who experience a mini-stroke should also take steps to lower their blood pressure, cholesterol levels, reach a healthy weight and stop smoking.
What are the symptoms of a mini-stroke or TIA?
To remember these symptoms, keep the FAST acronym in mind:
- Face numbness or weakness
- Arm numbness or weakness
- Speech issues or difficulty
- Time to call for help