A person who suddenly experiences paralysis on one side of the body, has trouble speaking, or has a sudden change in vision may be having either a stroke or a so-called “mini-stroke.”
If you start having those symptoms, call 911 immediately, says Mohini Gurme, M.D., a neurologist at Highland Medical Rockland Neurological Associates in West Nyack.
Mini may sound less serious. “But if it turns out you are suffering from a mini-stroke, or transient ischemic attack (TIA),” says Dr. Gurme, “you’re at higher risk of a full stroke or another TIA within the next six weeks.”
A stroke—sometimes called a brain attack—is an injury to the brain due to a lack of blood flow. The most common type of stroke, called an ischemic stroke, is caused by a blood clot that blocks blood flow to the brain, cutting off oxygen and energy that brain cells need to survive. A person having an ischemic stroke needs to be given a clot-busting drug within the first three hours of symptom onset to be most effective—one reason it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
“A TIA is a stroke that was about to happen, but clears up on its own,” Dr. Gurme says. It produces similar symptoms to a stroke, lasts about 30-45 minutes and generally resolves in about an hour. “When you do an MRI of the brain after a TIA, you don’t see any brain injury or evidence of a stroke,” Dr. Gurme says. “It may have been a blood clot that gave the patient symptoms and cleared up on its own, so blood flow resumes and doesn’t create any ongoing damage.”
If tests indicate the person may have had a TIA, the doctor prescribes medication to help prevent a stroke or another TIA. This therapy often consists of baby aspirin in addition to a statin drug to address high cholesterol. Other testing includes an ultrasound of the carotid artery in the neck to check for a blood clot or reduced blood flow to the brain. An echocardiogram may be done to see if heart issues occurred that predisposed the person to have a stroke or TIA.
The biggest risk factors for a stroke or TIA are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking. “To reduce your risk, work with your doctor to get your chronic medical conditions under control. If you’re a smoker, find help to quit,” Dr. Gurme says.
“Just because a TIA doesn’t lead to any lasting injury, it doesn’t mean it should be taken lightly,” Dr. Gurme emphasizes. “It’s a warning sign—and an opportunity to take steps to protect yourself from having a stroke.”
To schedule an appointment with our board-certified neurologists at Highland Medical Rockland Neurological Associates, call 845-353-4344.