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Mini-stroke: recognising the signs & symptoms

09 June 2015

Recognising the symptoms and getting prompt medical attention could save your life.

Medical professional assisting patient
Symptoms of a mini-stroke may only last for a few minutes and disappear completely within 24 hours

Failure to seek immediate treatment for a mini-stroke puts you at greater risk of having a life-threatening major stroke in the near future, say researchers.

An estimated 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke each year leading to 67,000 deaths. Most victims are over the age of 65 but stroke can affect anyone. There are also between 30,000 and 40,000 mini-strokes (or TIAs – transient ischaemic attacks) every year, but these are not usually fatal.

A medical team from the Stroke Prevention Unit at the University of Oxford undertook a review of 18 different patient groups involving over 10,000 individuals. They found that people who didn’t seek help after a mini-stroke had an 11 percent risk of having a major stroke within a week. However, those who were treated at specialist clinics had less than a one percent risk of going on to have a serious medical emergency.

"It is essential that all patients with suspected TIA or minor stroke are treated immediately," said Professor Rothwell, who led the research, published in the journal Lancet Neurology.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off- normally as a result of a blockage in an artery. Blood carries oxygen and essential nutrients to the brain and if the flow is stopped this can cause the effected part of brain to be damaged or even destroyed.

A mini-stroke happens when the blood supply is interrupted for a very short time. The symptoms are very similar to a stroke. However the major difference between them is that the symptoms of a TIA may only last for a few minutes and disappear completely within 24 hours.

"Too often people ignore stroke symptoms if they don’t last very long," says Joe Korner, Director of Communications at The Stroke Association. "Yet a TIA is one of the only warning signs that a major stroke may be on its way and it is vital that anyone with a TIA is referred urgently to specialist services and for those at highest risk to be seen within 24 hours.

"This is not about brand new technology, or a costly intervention. It is about organising our services so that a TIA or minor stroke is always treated, and treated urgently. Indeed previous studies have shown that quick treatment following a TIA can reduce the risk of a major stroke by 80%."

FAST test - three simple checks to help recognise whether someone has had a stroke or TIA

F Facial weakness: Can the person smile? Has their mouth or an eye drooped?

A Arm weakness: Can the person raise both arms?

S Speech problems: Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?

T Test these symptoms.

If you see any of these signs, call 999 immediately.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.