Why do some strokes cause permanent neurological deficits while others are only limited TIA’s or mini strokes?
For someone who never had a stroke before, it may seem only fair for a cautionary TIA to arrive first- just to let you know that it is time to consider stroke risk and prevention. In some instances, mini strokes or other forewarning signs precede strokes. However, in many instances, a stroke can happen suddenly, without any warning at all- often resulting in completely unforeseen life changing consequences and significant disability.
What Makes a Stroke Different from a TIA?
A TIA is a transient ischemic attack. It is a temporary interruption of blood flow to a territory in the brain. A TIA resolves before an infarct occurs- which is brain tissue damage resulting from lack of blood supply. An infarct leaves brain cells permanently damaged and thus unable to function normally.
A stroke, in contrast to a TIA, is an interruption of blood flow to a region of the brain that lasts long enough for brain tissue damage to occur. A stroke can be large or small. In fact, a stroke can be small enough or insignificant enough that it isn’t even noticed, resulting in a silent stroke.
Can You Prevent a TIA from Becoming a Stroke?
*There are, in fact, a few things you can do to reduce the chances that a stroke will progress to a TIA. A few of these require long-term planning, and a few require on-the-spot action.
1. Don’t Ignore Mini Strokes.
Quite often a stroke survivor may recall unusual fleeting neurological symptoms in the days, weeks or months prior to the stroke.
Patients usually say, ‘ I thought it would go away,’ or ‘I just brushed it off because it got better,’ or even, ‘I didn’t know what to make of it, so I didn’t want to ask for trouble.’ Many times, these unusual symptoms were, in fact, warning signs of stroke risk.
It is best never to ignore something that could be a mini stroke. Risk factor management has been proven to prevent stroke, even after TIA’s have occurred.
2. Take Medication as Scheduled
If you are prescribed medication, it is vital to take it as directed. When you skip anti-hypertensive medications, heart medicine, and blood thinners- your body compensates in ways that are harmful, possibly becoming even more prone to a stroke than before.
3. Build Up Spare Brain
Evidence shows that physical fitness combined with mental fitness can help in preventing stroke and in minimizing the damage from a stroke by building ‘spare brain.’ The brain’s natural tendency to repair through neuroplasticity is maximized when mental fitness is boosted. Painless ways to stay mentally and physically fit should be a part of your routine even before you ever experience a TIA.
4. Don’t Wait to See What Happens.
Many stroke sufferers have known friends or family who have had TIA’s. Wishful thinking often leads people to treat all neurological symptoms as TIA’s. ‘I will call my doctor in the morning,’ or ‘I will mention it when I are my doctor next week.’ A TIA requires immediate medical attention and can’t wait for a more convenient time. It is a very risky gamble to wager on neurological symptoms turning out to be a TIA instead of a stroke.
5. Rapid Treatment- Sometimes You Never Know…
Some of the most powerful stroke treatments must be administered within a short window of time. By the time emergency stroke treatment is administered, a TIA often would not have resolved on it’s own. If the symptoms resolve before treatment can be administered, it is still worthwhile to have played it safe. The truth is, it is often impossible to determine in hindsight whether someone truly had an improvement due to stroke treatment, or whether the symptoms were only a TIA.