A ministroke is also known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Usually, it occurs when part of the brain experiences a temporary lack of blood flow. This causes stroke-like symptoms that resolve within 24 hours. Unlike a stroke, a ministroke on its own doesn’t cause permanent disabilities. Since ministroke symptoms and stroke symptoms are nearly identical, you should seek immediate emergency attention if you experience any symptoms. Knowing the signs of a ministroke can help you get the treatment as early as possible. Around 1 in 3 people who experience a ministroke later experience a stroke, so early treatment is crucial. Here is more.
What Causes a TIA?
TIA typically happens because a blood clot gets lodged in an artery that supplies blood to the brain. Without regular blood flow, your brain is starved for oxygen and can't work like it normally does. That's why you get symptoms like muscle weakness or slurred speech. Clots form when you have a buildup of a fatty, waxy substance called plaque in your arteries. They can take shape anywhere in your body and float along until they get stuck somewhere. If that "somewhere" happens to be an artery that goes to your brain, you can have a TIA. Moreover, you can get a TIA if so much plaque builds up in an artery that it severely limits blood flow to the brain, just like a clot.
Transient ischemic attacks usually last a few minutes. Most signs and symptoms disappear within an hour. The signs and symptoms of a TIA resemble those found early in a stroke and may include sudden onset of:
- Weakness, numbness or paralysis in your face, arm or leg, typically on one side of your body
- Slurred or garbled speech or difficulty understanding others
- Blindness in one or both eyes or double vision
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
How long does a ministroke last?
The symptoms of a ministroke can last as briefly as one minute. By definition, ministrokes last for fewer than 24 hours. Frequently, the symptoms are gone by the time you get to a doctor. Your symptoms may not be present while a doctor evaluates you, so you have to describe the event after your symptoms have disappeared. Duration aside, symptoms of a ministroke are the same as symptoms of an ischemic stroke. An ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke.
How are ministrokes treated?
Several treatment options are available. Ministrokes don’t cause lasting brain tissue damage or disabilities, but they can be an early warning sign of a stroke. Treatment for ministrokes focuses on starting or adjusting medications that improve blood flow to the brain. It also requires identifying abnormalities that your doctor can fix in order to reduce the risk of future ministrokes. Treatment options include drugs, medical procedures, and lifestyle changes.
Antiplatelet drugs make your platelets less likely to stick together to prevent blood clots. These medications include:
Minimally invasive carotid intervention
This is a surgical procedure that involves accessing the carotid arteries with a catheter. The catheter is inserted through the femoral artery in your groin. The doctor uses a balloon like device in order to open up clogged arteries. Next, they’ll place a stent or small wire tube inside the artery at the point of narrowing to improve blood flow to the brain.
You may also need surgery to prevent future strokes. If you have a severe narrowing of the carotid artery in your neck and aren’t a candidate for a carotid angioplasty and stenting, your doctor may recommend a surgery called a carotid endarterectomy. In the procedure, your doctor clears the carotid arteries of fatty deposits and plaques. This can reduce the risk of another ministroke or a stroke.
Your doctor may recommend that you have several tests to check your risk factors and should tell you how to prepare for the tests, such as fasting before having your blood drawn to check your cholesterol and blood sugar levels.