Just like a stroke, a mini stroke (TIA) is caused by an interruption in the blood supply to the brain. Unlike a stroke the interruption is temporary, but it is a warning sign that a full stroke could be on its way.
In a mini stroke (TIA), a blood vessel in the brain is temporarily blocked by a clot, but the body breaks down the clot before any lasting damage has been done to the brain.
But a clot is a clot. It may be temporary but it should not be ignored because it is a serious warning that something is wrong with the blood flow to your brain and a full stroke could happen in the future. In fact, if you have a mini stroke (TIA), you have an increased chance of having a full stroke. 1 in 10 people who have a mini stroke have a full stroke within a week but a recent study has shown that if someone gets treatment for a TIA, for example through a TIA clinic, their risk of a full stroke is reduced.1
The symptoms of a mini stroke/TIA are the same as the symptoms of a full stroke, though they disappear within 24 hours. Because symptoms don’t last, it is common for the person experiencing them to dismiss them, and think nothing of them.
Other symptoms of a stroke or mini stroke may include:
- blurred or reduced vision
- difficulty understanding
- dizziness or loss of balance
- difficulty swallowing
- severe headache
- nausea or vomiting
What should you do if you have experience these symptoms?
If you experience the symptoms of a stroke or mini stroke (TIA), seek urgent medical help. When you are having the symptoms you will not yet know if they will be temporary (mini stroke) or actually a full stroke. Don’t wait to see if they go away, call 999 immediately. If the symptoms go while you are waiting for the ambulance, please don’t cancel it. You need to be seen by specialists and referred to a TIA clinic. It could save you from going to to have a full stroke.
Sometimes, though, it is only later on that you realise something wasn’t quite right. So if you experienced symptoms recently but didn’t see a doctor, you should make an urgent appointment to see your GP. Your GP will also be able to refer you to a TIA clinic.
When you are referred to your local TIA service, you will be seen in less than a week. You will undergo investigations which may include blood pressure measurements, blood tests for cholesterol or diabetes, scans of your head and neck or heart tests, all of which will help doctors understand what caused the TIA and how it can best be treated.
Treatment may include medication, for example to thin the blood and stop clots forming. In some cases surgery may be required if scans have shown a narrowing of the carotid arteries that deliver blood to the brain. You may also be given advice on lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of another TIA or full stroke.
For more information on a TIA/mini stroke, you can download our ‘What is a TIA’ booklet here.
Whatever your experience of stroke is – whether you or a loved one has had a stroke or mini stroke – NICHS is here for you. We understand that stroke affects the whole family, not just the individual. We also understand that stroke is a journey. We will be there for you as you make that journey, listening, understanding, advising and supporting.
How can NICHS help?
We have a range of stroke services across Northern Ireland for individuals who have had a stroke or who want support following a mini stroke/TIA. Our support is also available to the families and carers of stroke survivors.
Our Stroke Family Support Co-ordinator acts as a link between hospital and home to provide assistance and guidance to stroke survivors and their families and carers.
Chris Henry’s story
Ulster and Ireland rugby star, Chris Henry, knows the importance of getting medical help when having a mini stroke. The local sportsman, who is now also an ambassador for NICHS, explains, “In 2014, hours before the Ireland v South Africa autumn international rugby match in Dublin, I had a mini stroke, or TIA as it is also known, at the age of 30.
“When I got up that morning, I went into the hotel bathroom and suddenly my left arm fell down, the left side of my face fell and my speech was slurred. I knew I needed urgent help. My father had a stroke and so I was well aware of the symptoms. However, because my speech was slurred, my roommate Rhys Ruddock was unable to understand me as I tried to tell him to get a doctor.
“Even though he didn’t know what I was saying, Rhys realised that something was badly wrong and so ran through the corridors of the hotel in just his underwear to get help. Within 3 minutes a doctor was by my side. After spending four days in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, it emerged that I had in fact suffered a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), known as a mini stroke, related to an undiagnosed hole in my heart. I had an operation at the end of November 2014 to close the hole in my heart.
“My story has a happy ending as I was able to get back to playing rugby but it has left me determined to raise awareness of mini strokes.
“My message to you is not to ignore mini stroke symptoms. Get help. It could save your life.”
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- Rothwell PM, Algra A, Chen Z, Diener HC, Norrving B, Mehta Z. (2016) Effects of aspirin on risk and severity of early recurrent stroke after transient ischaemic attack and ischaemic stroke: time-course analysis of randomised trials. Lancet.388(10042), 365-375.