What is a stroke?

A stroke happens when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted. This can happen when a blood vessel in the brain bursts (hemorrhagic stroke), or when there is some type of blockage that cuts off blood supply (ischemic stroke). When brain cells are deprived of oxygen, they die.

What are the symptoms of a stroke?

Stroke symptoms generally come on suddenly and can include:

  • Difficulty seeing from one or both eyes
  • Numbness of the face, arms, or legs, especially on one side
  • Severe headache
  • Difficulty walking
  • Dizziness, loss of coordination and balance
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty with talking

What is a transient ischemic attack (TIA)?

A transient ischemic attack (TIA), also sometimes referred to as a “mini-stroke,” starts like a stroke but resolves within an hour or so without any residual effects. A TIA usually lasts for a few minutes, but there is no way to tell at the beginning if a person is having a stroke or a TIA. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 33 percent of the approximately 50,000 people who have TIAs every year will later have a more severe stroke. Therefore, TIAs should be considered warnings. Patients with TIA are at a particularly increased risk of having a stroke within the following weeks to months.

If stroke or TIA symptoms appear, it is very important to go to the ER to get immediate medical help, even if symptoms resolve!

What are the risk factors for stroke?

Some factors cannot be modified (such as age), while others can (smoking). Risks include:

  • Age
  • Family stroke history
  • Sex
  • Race or ethnicity
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Smoking (both tobacco and marijuana)
  • Blood cholesterol levels
  • Drug abuse
  • Obesity

How are transient ischemic attacks treated?

Patients with TIA should be seen by medical providers immediately. Evaluation includes examination by a doctor and diagnostic testing. Depending upon the medical history of the person, suggested treatments could include drugs or carotid surgery in order to reduce the risk of having a full-blown stroke.

Drug treatment could include antiplatelet medications, especially aspirin. Other people who have an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) may get prescriptions for anticoagulant drugs such as Coumadin® (warfarin), Eliquis® (apixaban), Xarelto® (rivaroxaban), and Pradaxa® (dabigatran).

Carotid surgery could include:

  • Carotid endarterectomy — surgical removal of the plaque within the carotid artery (the artery that supplies blood to the brain)
  • Carotid angioplasty and stenting procedure —a less invasive treatment appropriate for some patients who have a carotid artery blockage

How can the risk of future TIA or stroke be decreased?

  • If you smoke, stop.
  • Monitor your blood pressure and treat your blood pressure if it is high.
  • Monitor your cholesterol and treat your cholesterol if it is high.
  • Eat a balanced diet in order to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Stop drinking alcohol, except in moderation.
  • Exercise.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 6/18/2014...#14173