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.
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.