Strokes are the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States and a major cause for serious, long-term disability. People most at risk for strokes are those over 65, smokers, and those with high-blood pressure and heart disease. Another risk factor: a family history of mini-strokes, also known as a transient ischemic attacks (TIA).
What are mini strokes?
Mini-strokes — or TIA — are the result of an interruption in the blood flow between the brain, spinal cord, or retina. They usually last only a few minutes but do not damage brain cells or cause irreversible damage.
Roughly one in three individuals who experience a TIA will go on to have a stroke, according to the Mayo Clinic. In about half of those cases, that stroke will come within a year of the initial mini-stroke. That's why doctors consider a mini-stroke a warning sign of an impending stroke.
Mini Stroke (TIA) Symptoms
Mini stroke symptoms are similar to those of a regular stroke and can be so minor that people may not even know they’re having one. Mini stroke signs include: slurred speech, suddenly feeling dizzy, feeling lightheaded, numbness or tingling in your arms or legs, or even blurred vision.
Most people ignore mini strokes, but that’s dangerous. After a mini stroke, what you can expect is an increased risk of having a regular stroke — 10 percent within the first week, according to a 2007 study published in the journal The Lancet. In a 2016 paper published in the Journal of Mid-life Health, researchers wrote that your risk factor for having a major stroke goes up by 24 to 29 percent over the next five years.
The cause of mini-strokes is similar to that of a regular stroke. During an ischemic stroke — the most common kind of stroke — a blood clot shuts down blood flow to the brain. During a transient ischemic stroke (aka a mini-stroke), that blockage is only temporary. A build-up of "cholesterol-containing fatty deposits" called plaque (atherosclerosis) in an artery or its branches and pathways is the underlying cause of the blockage.
Because the barrier is only temporary, mini-strokes do not cause lasting damage. However, you can begin a mini-stroke recovery treatment to reduce the likelihood of having a regular stroke, which could lead to permanent disabilities. To deal with mini-stroke after-effects, doctors will prescribe anti-coagulant drugs. In some extreme cases, surgery to open up the arteries is an option if clotting is severe.
There is, however, another more immediate treatment for mini-strokes. Taking aspirin immediately after a TIA can significantly reduce your risk of having another stroke, according to a 2016 study published in The Lancet. Professor Peter Rothwell and a team of researchers looked at data from more than 50,000 patients who were being treated with aspirin for stroke prevention. What they found was that taking 300 mg of aspirin right after a TIA reduced the early risk of a major stroke by about 70 to 80 percent over the first few days and weeks.
"Encouraging people to take aspirin if they think they may have had a TIA or minor stroke — experiencing sudden-onset unfamiliar neurological symptoms — could help to address this situation, particularly if urgent medical help is unavailable," Rothwell said.
Aspirin for Strokes
Preventing strokes with aspirin isn't a new treatment. Doctors routinely recommended duo antiplatelet therapy (DAPT) — which is essentially combining a dose of aspirin with another drug to prevent blood clots — to stroke and heart attack patients. The American Heart Association (AHA) even recommends a low, daily aspirin dosage to prevent heart attacks and strokes. As for the best pre- or post-stroke aspirin dosage, it's best to consult your doctor.
You might have read somewhere that if you have a stroke, take aspirin, but as for whether it is OK to take aspirin during a stroke, the AHA recommends against doing so. Not all strokes are the result of a blood clot (hemorrhagic strokes, for example, are the result of a brain aneurysm bursting or a weakened blood vessel leaking) and in some cases, you wouldn't want an anticoagulant. Instead, their instructions are to call 911 first; sometimes the dispatcher will order you to take aspirin, in which case you may do so.
As is the case for most health issues, you should talk to your doctor about whether aspirin is right for you — and whether you are at risk for strokes.
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