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Mini-stroke, major health warning

Each year, about 240,000 Americans experience mini-strokes. More than one-third of those individuals will suffer a severe stroke in the future. Half the time, the subsequent major stroke takes place within a year, but it can occur as quickly as days or months after the mini-stroke.

A mini-stroke, also called a transient ischemic attack (TIA), lasts for only a few minutes. Its symptoms appear suddenly and usually disappear within one hour. All effects generally last no longer than 24 hours. As a result, mini-stroke sufferers can fail to realize what happened to them and not seek treatment. But a mini-stroke—which occurs when the blood supply to the brain is temporarily interrupted—signals that your body needs immediate medical attention. Prompt evaluation and treatment can help you avoid a major stroke and its life-threatening effects.

Mini-stroke symptoms resemble those of a stroke but generally involve no brain damage. Warning signs may include:

  • weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, typically on one side of the body
  • vision loss
  • confusion or difficulty speaking or understanding
  • dizziness or loss of coordination or balance
  • sudden severe headache

Doctors believe mini-strokes occur when blood clots temporarily obstruct blood flow to the brain. Additional research suggests some mini-strokes may be caused by brain artery spasms.

A medical exam within an hour of a mini-stroke helps doctors determine what caused the attack and outline treatment to help prevent a major stroke. Your doctor may prescribe medication to reduce blood clotting or recommend surgery to clear plaque from arteries.

Older individuals, African-Americans and people who have a strong family history of heart disease, stroke and diabetes are more susceptible to mini-stroke and stroke. But you can decrease your chances of both by:

  • eating a well-balanced diet
  • exercising regularly
  • working closely with your doctor to avoid developing cardiovascular disease
  • keeping your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar within healthy limits
  • losing excess pounds
  • quitting smoking