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Mini stroke is the common name used to describe a condition known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). A mini stroke is characterized by stroke-like symptoms which generally lasts for less than 24 hours (usually less than 2 hours).

What is a mini stroke?

A mini stroke is often considered a warning sign of a true stroke in the future if preventive measures are not taken. It has been estimated that about 200,000 to 500,000 mini strokes take place every year in the U.S. A mini stroke is also commonly referred to as TIA or little stroke. [1]

A stroke in general refers to an attack that occurs within the brain cells. The brain controls a wide range of activities such as talking, eating, and walking, and needs a continuous supply of oxygen through the blood.

Any condition that causes a lack of blood supply to the brain cells can lead to a stroke attack. Several of the day-to-day activities controlled by the brain may be affected in case of a stroke. The mini stroke symptoms are commonly noted on only one side of the body as the functions of the left and right sides of the body are controlled by one specific side of the brain.

What causes a mini stroke?

A mini stroke can be caused by a wide variety of factors although the most common reason leading to the occurrence of stroke is the lack of blood supply to the brain cells. Such a lack of blood supply can occur due to problems associated with the blood vessels of the brain or with that of the heart (the heart pumps blood and any abnormality that affects this action can lead to a lack of blood supply everywhere in the body, including the brain). [2]

The occurrence of a mini stroke is generally associated with the formation or dislodgement of a clot within the blood vessels of the brain or with the narrowing of the blood vessels of the brain. In some rare instances a brain stroke or mini stroke can occur due to conditions that affect the heart, presence of blood disorders characterized by thickening of the blood or inflammatory conditions of the blood vessels.

What are the signs and symptoms of mini stroke?

Mini stroke signs and symptoms can vary with the duration and severity of the attack. They may also vary to some extent in women when compared to men. A wide variety of signs and symptoms may be noted in individuals suffering from mini stroke.    

In general, mini stroke symptoms may appear suddenly, last for only a short period of time (few minutes to 24 hours), and then disappear completely. These symptoms may recur at a later time in some instances.

While TIA or mini stroke is different from an actual stroke, the signs and symptoms of mini stroke are often identical to that of an actual stroke. However, it should be noted that while the symptoms of an actual stroke tend to last for a long duration, mini stroke symptoms do not last for more than 24 hours.

Patients who have a diagnosis of TIA are at an increased risk of future ischemic stroke and even 15% to 30% of ischemic strokes are preceded by TIA symptoms, often on the same day.

The risk of stroke is highest within the first 24 hours, so prompt and accurate diagnosis is critical, and misdiagnosis can expose patients to unnecessary investigation and long-term secondary prevention treatment, as well as anxiety. [3]

Some of the commonly noted mini stroke symptoms have been listed below. These symptoms may often be noted on only one side of the body in most of the instances.

Muscle weakness in the muscles of the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body may be noted. This may or may not be accompanied by numbness or tingling sensations.

When the speech centers in the brain are affected, one may have trouble speaking or understanding what others are speaking or trying to speak. In some instances, other senses such as eyesight, touch, pain, temperature, pressure, hearing, and taste may be affected.

Change in alertness, mood, or emotions may also be noted in some cases. Some tend to suffer from confusion or a transient loss of memory while others may have difficulty writing or reading, clumsiness, trouble walking and dizziness.

Are the symptoms of mini stroke different in women?

While some of the mini stroke symptoms may be common to both men and women, there are a few symptoms and signs that are specifically noted in women. Studies have reported that when compared to men, women are 43% more likely to report many of the nontraditional symptoms of stroke. These studies reported that symptoms such as pain, change in the mental-status, a feeling of lightheadedness, headache, or other associated symptoms were often complained by women experiencing a mini stoke. [4]

Women experiencing a mini stroke can experience abrupt pain in the face and arm or the leg (generally on one side of the body). In some instances they have sudden hiccups which do not subside after drinking water. A few may feel sick in the stomach (nauseated feeling) while other may abruptly start feeling tired. Mini stroke is also noted to cause sudden chest pain or pounding or racing heartbeats. Sudden shortness of breath has also been reported in a few cases.

The Women’s Health Study examined Aspirin as a primary preventive agent for cardiovascular disease in healthy women over age 45 years and the risk of ischemic stroke was reduced by 24%. However, no benefit was found for cardiac risk. [5]

These symptoms are generally not noted in men experiencing a mini stroke. The presence of such variations may often make it difficult for one to differentiate between a mini stroke and other common conditions.

What is the prognosis for a mini stroke?

Studies have reported that people who suffer from mini stroke often live longer than those who have not suffered any. This may be attributed to the lifestyle changes brought about by these people. While the symptoms subside within a few hours of the stroke, a battery of tests needs to be done to identify any underlying problems. Lifestyle changes such as proper diet, regular exercise and getting rid of stroke causing habits such as smoking can prevent the further events of strokes. Failure to do so can make you vulnerable to future attacks, which may be fatal at times.