What is a Mini Stroke or TIA?

June 11, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Martin Gizzi, M.D., Ph.D. contributes to topics such as Cerebrovascular Diseases.

Spozhmy Panezai, M.D. contributes to topics such as Neurology.

Stephen J Martino, M.D. contributes to topics such as Neurology.

By: Katie Woehnker

A transient ischemic attack (TIA), also called a mini stroke, is a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain, often indicating that a larger stroke is coming.

Signs of a TIA

The warning signs of TIA are the same as a stroke – remember to B.E.F.A.S.T.:

“Because symptoms of a TIA can go away in a matter of minutes, people often dismiss the seriousness of the situation. We’re finding that many patients these days are delaying care because of COVID-19; they are afraid to come to the hospital,” shares vascular neurologist Spozhmy Panezai, M.D., clinical director of the Comprehensive Stroke Program at JFK Medical Center.

“People may think once those symptoms go away, they’re out of the woods, but that’s simply not true. Prompt evaluation and treatment is essential to prevent a future, larger stroke from occurring.”

What happens during a TIA, and why does it precede a larger stroke?

The symptoms of a TIA are very similar to an ischemic stroke because they are both caused by blood clots. In a mini stroke, the blood clot eventually opens up and this causes symptoms to subside. The brain is only temporarily deprived of oxygen and so long-term damage does not occur.

However, in a full-blown stroke, the clot does not open up on its own and the brain is deprived of oxygen long enough to cause permanent damage.

Mini strokes can occur before larger ones as a warning. Both have the same risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, and obesity – all of which can cause plaque buildup in the arteries that can lead to blood clots.

If you are experiencing stroke symptoms, please take immediate action by calling 911.

Emergency care should never be postponed, and hospitals are taking special precautions to make sure patients stay safe. Read more about how Hackensack Meridian Health has enhanced processes to protect the safety of patients and team members.

Every Minute Matters – Time is Brain

Although mini strokes don’t appear to cause long-lasting damage, about 1 in 3 people who’ve had a mini stroke will have a larger stroke.

“There’s a common phrase that ‘Time is Brain’, this is because every minute is truly vital when you’re suffering a stroke,” adds Martin Gizzi, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Division of Cerebrovascular Diseases at Hackensack University Medical Center. “Without proper medical treatment, you can lose almost 2 million neurons a minute during a stroke.”

Neurons are nerve cells that transmit information throughout the body. When nerve cells are damaged, they can’t communicate with the other cells which leads to impaired function and disability, including:

  • Paralysis
  • Pain
  • Vision problems
  • Slurred speech
  • Cognitive impairments including difficulty problem solving
  • Memory issues
  • Emotional disturbances

Prompt Treatment Means Better Outcomes

A mini stroke can be treated by medication that helps prevent blood clotting, or surgery if needed. This will help prevent a larger stroke from occurring.

“We don’t want patients dismissing serious neurological symptoms because they went away after a few minutes,” shares neurologist Stephen Martino, M.D. of Jersey Shore University Medical Center and Ocean Medical Center. “If it’s a TIA, treatment can be administered to help prevent a larger stroke. And if it’s a full-blown stroke, we have a certain time window to use medications that can essentially reverse the stroke.”

A common drug used for stroke is called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) which works by breaking up the blood clot and restoring blood flow to your brain. This kind of medication can only be used within the first three to four and a half hours from when the stroke symptoms started.

“A patient may come in not being able to move half their body, but if we administer treatment within that crucial time frame, we have a chance at recovering that function completely. If you wait too long for treatment, those deficits become permanent,” adds Dr. Martino. “The sooner you get treatment, the better the odds are in making a full recovery.”

Healthy Habits to Prevent Stroke

Healthy lifestyle choices can help reduce your risk of stroke. In fact, up to 80% of strokes are preventable. Here are some tips:

  1. Prepare healthy meals and snacks with fruits and vegetables
  2. Make physical activity a priority
  3. Quit smoking and limit alcohol consumption

“While some stroke risk factors can’t be avoided, like your age or family health history, there are things you can do to help reduce your risk,” shares Dr. Gizzi. “High blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol all raise your odds of stroke. These modifiable risk factors can be reduced by a healthy diet and exercise.”

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.