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Important to treat TIA quickly

DEAR DOCTOR K: My husband’s doctor said that he had a ministroke. What does this mean?

DEAR READER: Most strokes occur when blood flow to a part of the brain is blocked. These are called ischemic strokes. When the flow of blood is blocked badly enough, for a long enough time, brain cells die.

Not all blockages of the brain’s blood vessels are bad enough, or last long enough, to cause death of brain cells. Instead, the part of the brain that isn’t getting enough blood temporarily malfunctions. Such temporary blockages that do not lead to brain-cell death are called ministrokes, the technical term for which is “transient ischemic attack,” or TIA.

TIAs usually last several minutes to hours. Below I list the symptoms of both a full stroke and a ministroke. The main difference is that the symptoms of ministrokes are temporary.

If the blockage and the symptoms are temporary, why is it important for you to know about TIAs? Because they greatly raise the risk that a bigger, permanent stroke may be on the way. And also because medical care can reduce your risk of having that stroke.

For that reason, a TIA should be regarded – and treated – every bit as seriously as a full-blown stroke.Because of his increased risk, you should be on the lookout for the warning signs and symptoms of another ministroke or of a full-blown stroke. If you observe any of the following, immediately dial 911 or take him to an emergency room:

• weakness in an arm, hand or leg;

• numbness on one side of the body;

• sudden dimness or loss of vision, particularly in one eye;

• sudden difficulty speaking;

• inability to understand what someone is saying;

• dizziness or loss of balance;

• sudden, lasting, excruciating headache.

Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. Go to his website to send questions and get additional information: