Stroke and Mini-Stroke: Signs and Symptoms to Watch For
Each year in the United States, nearly 800,000 individuals will suffer a stroke—resulting in approximately 150,000 fatalities. That means every 40 seconds someone has one, and someone dies from one every four minutes.
Not all strokes are equal in severity, but there is still a significant impact concerning brain cell damage, brain cell death, and overall brain performance.
If not all strokes are the “same,” what makes them different?
There are three primary types of strokes: hemorrhagic, ischemic, and transient ischemic attack (TIA). Ischemic strokes make up 87% of all strokes—also encompassing TIAs—with hemorrhagic comprising the other 13 percent.
TIAs are sometimes referred to as mini-strokes, but it’s important to know they are in no way less damaging in the long run. The number one risk factor for having a stroke is a previous stroke—including TIAs.
While the definition of a TIA has evolved over the past two decades, most neurologists now diagnostically consider a TIA a stroke—not just an “attack”— because it still represents ischemic activity. Even if symptoms resolve quicker from a TIA than a full stroke, that would be like saying a mini heart attack isn’t a heart attack. It very much is, just a smaller version.
If you experience a TIA, it should be taken very seriously. Think of it this way–maybe you didn’t get fatally shot, but you still got hit.
What are the signs you might be having a stroke?
With a stroke, timely intervention is critical. Two million brain cells die every minute that passes, heightening the risk of permanent brain damage, disability, and death. So, it’s imperative that we all know the signs and symptoms of possible stroke.
Facial drooping, arm weakness, and speech difficulty are three of the best-known signs of a stroke. One helpful tool for remembering this, and what to do, is the FAST acronym.
F – Facial drooping. Is the person able to smile normally?
A – Arm weakness. Can the person raise both arms to equal height? Or does one drift downward?
S – Speech difficulty. Are they slurring their words or having trouble communicating thoughts?
T – “Time is tissue.” Call 9-1-1 immediately.
While these are the classic stroke symptoms most often discussed by physicians and stroke awareness advocates, additional signs may point to stroke. For example, nausea, dizziness or vertigo, confusion, and visual changes may also be indicators. Sometimes, if the TIA affects the frontal, temporal lobe, a person might have a sudden personality change.
Ultimately, any sudden change should be considered a stroke possibility. Again, the highest risk factor for stroke is a previous one—so the older a person gets, the more likely they are to develop a stroke. That doesn’t mean that children, teenagers, or young adults are immune. There may have been anatomical factors while in the womb, heart arrhythmias, or external exposures such as drugs and alcohol. In some scenarios, extreme stress can precipitate stroke.
How much time do you have to respond?
If treatment takes place within three hours of symptom onset, there is a much greater chance that an individual will recover with little or no disability. If intervention is delayed, there are still some options available.
Advancements in ischemic stroke treatment allow for a method called thrombolysis, which involves medicine that works as a clot-buster to restore blood flow to the brain. It is administered via an IV, so no surgical intervention is required. However, this treatment must be given within the first four-and-a-half hours of stroke occurrence. If that window closes, the patient will not be eligible to receive the medication.
Another option is mechanical thrombectomy. This non-invasive procedure involves inserting a catheter into the arteries, navigating to where the clot is, and retrieving it.
Scientists have also developed an approach that combines medicinal thrombolytic treatment with mechanical thrombectomy. Research indicates that integrating the two significantly improves functional independence three months post-stroke, as opposed to medicinal-only treatment.
Yet, the best chance at limiting disability is still time. As soon as you experience any symptom of stroke, call 9-1-1. Don’t drive yourself to the emergency room—wait for the EMTs. In most cases, emergency response workers can start making critical assessments and relay the stroke response team waiting at the hospital.
The bottom line.
It can’t be emphasized enough: timely response means everything. Once the stopwatch begins, you have very little time to act in order to optimize outcomes.
If you or a loved one has had a stroke and are experiencing cognitive or physical after-effects, options are available. New research has shown that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) and additional protocols in the Aviv Medical Program can help to repair and regenerate the brain after a stroke.
Contact us to learn more about the Aviv Medical Program and how it can benefit post-stroke recovery.