Stroke is a disease of the arteries entering the brain and within its tissues. In the United States, it’s the fifth-leading cause of death, and a major cause of disability.
Our expert team of neurologists at Memphis Neurology specializes in treating patients with both acute and chronic stroke, helping them regain strength and use of their bodies. They also want to educate our patients about the signs and symptoms of stroke, including ministrokes (also known as transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), so they’ve put together this guide to get you in the know.
Arteries are conduits that carry oxygenated blood and other nutrients from the heart to the body, including the brain. If one becomes blocked (e.g. a clot, plaque) or ruptures, the brain area it supplies starves, and brain cells die — a stroke. Once tissue is damaged or destroyed, its cells can’t be repaired or replaced.
The most common type of stroke is an ischemic stroke, accounting for some 87% of all strokes. It results from a blood clot that fully blocks an artery, preventing blood from reaching the brain. Most clots develop from atherosclerosis, colloquially known as “hardening of the arteries.” In this condition, a plaque composed of fat, cholesterol, protein, and calcium sticks to the vessel’s inner wall, narrowing the conduit. The clot won’t go away on its own; you need immediate medical treatment.
A transient ischemic attack (TIA), also called a “ministroke,” is a brief period during which parts of the brain don’t receive enough blood. Because the blood supply is restored quickly, though, brain tissue doesn’t die as it does in an ischemic stroke. However, since these attacks are often early warning signs of a more severe stroke to come, they need to be taken seriously.
A TIA starts suddenly, just like ischemic strokes. The biggest difference is that TIAs last only 2-30 minutes.
Despite not causing permanent damage, mini stroke symptoms are serious and may include:
In addition to being “warning strokes,” mini strokes tend to happen multiple times, and in many cases, they’re followed by full-blown strokes within a year of the first attack.
Imaging tests like computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are useful when diagnosing ischemic strokes, allowing physicians to see which parts of the brain have been damaged. They’re not useful for diagnosing TIAs, though, because TIAs don’t cause permanent damage that can be viewed after-the-fact.
Instead, several techniques can be used to confirm a TIA and determine if the blockage is located in one or both carotid arteries. They include:
The results then inform treatment.
At Memphis Neurology, we take TIAs seriously, and our goals for treatment are to prevent any life-threatening complications that may occur from stroke symptoms, prevent future TIAs and major ischemic strokes, reduce disability, and help you restore as much normal functioning as possible through rehabilitation.
The major risk factors for any type of stroke are high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, tobacco use, and uncontrolled diabetes. Eliminating or reducing these risks is always our first step in a treatment plan.
Other treatments depend on the underlying cause of your attack. If you have a case of carotid artery stenosis (narrowing), treatment may include one of two surgical procedures:
If your attack was caused by a blood clot, clot-busting or blood-thinning medications can help break up the clot and prevent any more from forming. Sometimes a daily dose of aspirin is enough, or sometimes we prescribe an anticoagulant, such as heparin or warfarin.
If you’ve had a mini stroke, you need to take it seriously, as it puts you at a heightened risk of a major stroke and permanent brain damage. Memphis Neurology can put you on the path to better health. Give us a call at either of our locations, or book an evaluation online with us today.