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What Are Transient Ischemic Attacks? Why a Mini-Stroke is a Big Deal

senior man suffering with a headache at home

As people age, their bodies exhibit a variety of new behaviors and symptoms. For many of those issues, doctors counsel patients not to worry unless a symptom persists for a couple of weeks or more. Symptoms that go away in minutes, hours, or a day are typically of less concern, and people often ignore them (especially during a pandemic, when nobody wants to go to the emergency room unless it’s absolutely necessary).

In some cases, though, even symptoms that last only a few minutes before going away are worthy of immediate medical attention. One of these is when a patient has signs or symptoms of a transient ischemic attack, also called a TIA or mini-stroke. If you experience symptoms of a TIA, or someone you love exhibits signs that they may be having a TIA, immediate medical attention is called for.

Why Should You Pay Attention to a TIA?

Although TIAs are often referred to as “mini-strokes,” the American Stroke Association suggests that they should be called “warning strokes.” That name would be more likely to get people’s attention, and it should. According to the ASA, about 12 percent of strokes are preceded by a TIA, like a foreshock in the days before a major earthquake, and about 9 to 17 percent of people who have a TIA have a full-blown stroke within 90 days. It is also estimated that about 12 percent of people who have a TIA die within a year.

The good news is that having a TIA doesn’t mean that you are doomed. On the contrary, you can consider a TIA a warning that alerts you to potential danger ahead, and gives you and your doctor the chance to avert it. In order to do so, you need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a TIA and take appropriate action.

Signs and Symptoms of a TIA or Mini-Stroke

When discussing medical events, “symptoms” generally refer to something the patient experiences, and “signs” are something that can be observed by someone other than the patient, such as a family member or a medical professional. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a TIA is important, because early treatment can prevent serious harm.

If you are having a TIA, you may experience:

  • A sudden, severe headache with no apparent cause;
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of the body;
  • Difficulty understanding others;
  • Slurred speech;
  • Blindness in one or both eyes.

If you are with someone who is experiencing a TIA, you may observe that their face is drooping, that they appear suddenly confused, or that they are slurring their speech. If you ask them to smile, you may see that one side of their mouth doesn’t turn up as far as the other; if you ask them to raise both arms, they may not be able to lift one as high.

These signs and symptoms are the same as those of a stroke, but they may go away within a few minutes. The quick resolution of symptoms gives many people a false sense that “it was nothing.” Don’t be reassured by the briefness of the symptoms. Instead, take advantage of the possible warning they offer.

Failure to Diagnose a Stroke or TIA

Anyone can have a TIA, but like full-blown strokes, they become more common as you get older. Aside from age, other risk factors for TIA include a history of previous stroke or cardiovascular disease; diabetes; smoking; and a history of blood clots (embolisms). If you experience symptoms of a TIA but don’t have any risk factors, don’t assume that you are in the clear. You could still have experienced a TIA, or the symptoms may have been caused by another serious condition that warrants medical attention.

TIAs are fairly common; about 200,000 people per year experience one. Most doctors are familiar with the signs, symptoms, and risk factors of a TIA. If the doctor you consult fails to conduct appropriate testing or offer treatment, their actions could constitute medical malpractice. Because timely treatment is of the essence with strokes and TIA, you should contact an experienced Oregon medical malpractice attorney if you believe your doctor failed to diagnose a stroke or TIA.

Remember that even if your doctor should have seen and recognized that you might have had a TIA, he or she may not be able to be held liable for medical malpractice unless you sought treatment while there was still a chance that you could be helped and further harm or damage prevented.

If you suspect your doctor failed to diagnose your stroke or TIA, and you suffered further problems as a result, we invite you to contact Huegli Fraser to schedule a consultation to explore your options.

Categories: Medical Malpractice

Blog Disclaimer

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

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