How can a person know if they have had a minor stroke? My 72-year-old parent had a situation a few weeks ago where they suddenly felt dizzy and had trouble walking and speaking. However, the symptoms have now subsided and they appear to have returned to normal.
From your description, it is very possible that your parent suffered a "mini-stroke," also known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). It is advisable to see a doctor as soon as possible if they have not already done so.
Each year, around 250,000 Americans experience a mini-stroke, but less than half of them realize what is happening. That is because the symptoms are usually fleeting – lasting only a few minutes, up to an hour or two – causing most people to ignore them or brush them off as no big deal. But anyone who has had a mini-stroke is much more likely to have a full-blown stroke, which can cause long-term paralysis, impaired memory, loss of speech or vision and potentially death.
A mini-stroke is caused by a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain and can be a warning sign that a major stroke may occur soon. For this reason, it is imperative that mini-strokes be treated as emergencies.
Who is Vulnerable?
A person is more likely to suffer a TIA or stroke if they are overweight or inactive, have high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol or diabetes. Other factors that boost the risks are age (over 60), smoking, heart disease, atrial fibrillation and having a family history of strokes. Men also have a greater risk for strokes than women, and African Americans and Hispanics are at higher risk than those of other races.
The symptoms of a mini-stroke are the same as those of a full-blown stroke, but can be subtle and short-lived and do not leave any permanent damage. They include any one or combination of the following:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.
The easiest way to identify a stroke is to use the F.A.S.T. test to identify the symptoms.
F (Face): Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A (Arm): Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S (Speech): Ask the person to say a simple sentence. Is their speech slurred?
T (Time): If you observe any of these signs of stroke, call 911.
If these warning signs sound like what happened to your parent but went away, they should go to the emergency room or nearby stroke center for an evaluation.
If the doctor suspects a TIA, he or she will run a series of tests to determine what caused it and assess their risk of a future stroke. Once the cause has been determined, the goal of treatment is to correct the abnormality and prevent a full-blown stroke. Depending on the cause(s), the doctor may prescribe medication to reduce the tendency for blood to clot or may recommend surgery or a balloon procedure (angioplasty).
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.