Around 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke each year – leading to an estimated 67,000 deaths. In addition, at least 46,000 people have a mini-stroke (or TIAs – transient ischaemic attacks) each year. While generally not fatal, it's important to seek immediate medical attention. Research shows that not getting treatment for a TIA increases your risk of having a life-threatening stroke in the near future.
See also: Working long hours can increase stroke risk
See also: Good night's sleep and regular exercise reduces stroke risk
What are mini-strokes?
A TIA or mini stroke is caused by a temporary disruption in the blood supply to part of the brain, normally as a result of a blood clot. The lack of oxygen can cause symptoms similar to those of a stroke, such as speech and visual disturbance, and numbness or weakness in the face, arms and legs.
The main difference between them is that a TIA does not last as long as a stroke. The effects often last for a few minutes or hours and fully resolve within 24 hours.
In the early stages of a TIA, you won't be able to tell whether you are having a mini-stroke or a full stroke, so it's important to phone 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance. Even if the symptoms disappear before you reach hospital, an assessment should still be carried out.
Are you at risk?
Most people who have a major or mini-stroke are over the age of 60, but it can affect anyone. Those of Asian, African or Caribbean descent are also at a higher risk of having a TIA.
There are certain lifestyle factors that increase your risk of having a stroke, including:
• having high blood pressure
• being obese
• having high cholesterol levels
• regularly drinking an excessive amount of alcohol
• having atrial fibrillation (a type of irregular heartbeat)
• having diabetes
Importance of seeking immediate treatment
Experts at the Oxford University Stroke Prevention Unit analysed the data of more than 10,000 mini-stroke victims and found that those who didn't seek help were 11 percent more likely to have a major stroke within seven days. In contrast, those who received prompt treatment from a specialist clinic had less than a one percent risk of going on to have a life-threatening stroke.
A survey by the Stroke Association found that a third of people who had a mini-stroke dismissed it as a funny turn and only one in five rang 999.
Jon Barrick, chief executive of the Stroke Association, said: "By dismissing the early warning symptoms, thousands of people who have a mini-stroke are putting their lives at risk. Urgently investigating and treating people when a mini-stroke strikes could save over 3,000 lives each year, and prevent around 10,000 strokes."
Spotting the signs FAST
The main symptoms of a TIA can be remembered with the word FAST: Face-Arms-Speech-Time.
• Face – Can the person smile? Has their mouth or an eye drooped?
• Arms – Can they raise both arms and keep them there? Do they feel numbness in one arm?
• Speech – Is their speech slurred or garbled? Are they unable to talk, despite being awake?
• Time – It is time to dial 999 immediately if you see any of these signs.
Better safe than sorry
Because the symptoms of TIA often pass very quickly you may mistake it for a 'funny turn'. Some people notice a pain in the head and feel suddenly drained - but don't recognise it as a mini stroke. If you think you may have had a TIA in the past but didn't seek medical attention, see your GP urgently.