Mini-Strokes What Do They Mean

Jul 25, 2011

By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

Last week I had the opportunity to write about strokes. I spoke about how important it is to try to minimize your risk of a stroke by not smoking, eating a proper diet and living an active lifestyle. It is also very important to recognize the signs of a stroke, which are weakness, trouble speaking, vision problems, headache and severe dizziness.

Even though we know enormous amounts of information on strokes it can still be extremely hard to predict. However, there is an event called a mini-stroke or a transient ischemic attack, which often strikes a patient before they have a major stroke. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada reports over 15 000 people in Canada every year experience a transient ischemic attack or TIA. They also report that many go unreported so it is an underestimated statistic.

A TIA or mini stroke occurs when there is a temporary interruption of blow flow to the brain. This is due to a clot or plaque on the artery stopping blood flow and therefore fresh oxygen to the brain. Plaque is a buildup of cholesterol and fatty substances on the artery wall. Think of your artery as plumbing; if you narrow the size of the plumbing pressure increases, along with the risk of a blockage and flow can decrease. Plaque can also break off and causes blockages.

A TIA will produce the same symptoms of a stroke, except they reside within a few minutes or hours. Due to the symptoms being short lived and often fairly mild, many people have had a TIA without knowing it.

Some may ask why a TIA is significant if the symptoms are only temporary. They are significant because they act as a warning sign of a full blown stroke. A TIA should also be considered an emergency. Call 911 immediately. Sometimes the clot causing a TIA can do further damage, so clot busting medications are required. Treatment options are extremely time-sensitive so it is important for quick medical attention.

TIAs and strokes can be treated or prevented with blood thinners. There are a variety of blood thinners on the market. The most popular is Aspirin 81 mg, commonly referred to as baby aspirin. It is available with or without a prescription, but you should always consult your physician to see whether you need to be taking aspirin. It can be an extremely good investment, costing approximately $3.00 per month. If you have had previous cardiac health problems or even a stroke you may be on prescription blood thinners such as warfarin or Plavix. There are new blood thinners on the market so talk to one of your clinic pharmacists for more information.

Other important medications which can reduce strokes or a TIA are blood pressure pills, cholesterol pills and diabetes medications to control sugar levels. It is important to keep blood pressure low to not cause stress on the heart or any of the arteries. Cholesterol pills help prevent plaque buildup on the arteries. Cholesterol pills and blood pressure pills are sometimes difficult to take because we do not feel or notice any benefit from them. However; they are working around the clock to keep your heart and vascular system healthy. Of course diet and lifestyle changes are the best choice you can make to prevent strokes, but once again we often do not adhere to the necessary changes.

So if you have a TIA or even think you have had a TIA, seek medical attention. There is more than likely no problem. However, it can potentially help you prevent a problem. It can help you prevent a stroke and the unfortunate devastation a stroke causes.

The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.

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