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Can You Recognize Symptoms of Minor Stroke?

Study Shows Many People Having a Minor Stroke Delay Prompt Treatment
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

unaware_of_stroke.jpg

April 15, 2010 -- Most people having minor strokes don't recognize the symptoms, and a large percentage fails to seek timely treatment, a new study shows.

Researchers in the U.K. interviewed 1,000 patients treated for minor stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), a condition characterized by stroke-like symptoms that generally last just a few minutes and cause no lasting impairment.

The study found that roughly 70% of patients did not understand the cause of their symptoms and slightly less than half sought medical attention within three hours of first having symptoms.

Lack of awareness about how to identify symptoms of minor stroke was high regardless of patient age, sex, education, or economic status.

TIAs are warning signs of possible serious and disabling strokes. About one in 20 people who have a TIA will have a major stroke within a few days and one in 10 will have one within three months, stroke specialist Larry B. Goldstein, MD, tells WebMD.

Goldstein, who was not involved with the study, directs the Duke Stroke Center at Duke University.

"Patients and even health care professionals often dismiss the symptoms," Goldstein says. "TIAs are probably one of the most misdiagnosed conditions. But recognizing a TIA and determining its cause can reduce the risk for damage from major stroke."

Know Your Stroke Symptoms

The symptoms associated with TIAs or minor strokes are the same as for major strokes, but they may last only a few minutes.

They include any one or combination of the following:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arms, or legs, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden trouble speaking or understanding
  • Confusion
  • Sudden vision problems in one or both eyes
  • Dizziness, loss of balance, or sudden trouble walking
  • Severe headache with no obvious cause

In an effort to educate the public about stroke symptoms, the National Stroke Association launched the "Act F.A.S.T." campaign early last year.

Act F.A.S.T. stands for:

  • Face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop? 
  • Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward? 
  • Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Does he or she have trouble or are the words slurred? 
  • Time. Time is critical. Call 911 immediately.

 

Call 911 With Stroke Symptoms

Calling 911 is important because patients who arrive at the hospital by ambulance tend to be evaluated far more quickly than those who walk into hospital ERs on their own, says Michael A. Sloan, MD, who directs the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Tampa General Hospital.

"For someone having a stroke, or even a TIA, minutes count," Sloan tells WebMD. "Each second that passes can mean 32,000 brain cells lost."

Prompt treatment with clot-busting thrombolytic drugs during a major stroke can prevent death and long-term disability.

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