You’ve probably heard the terms “mild stroke” or “mini-stroke.” But what is a mild stroke exactly? A mild stroke is also known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA is when blood flow to a part of the brain, spinal cord, or retina briefly stops. This can cause momentary stroke-like symptoms but doesn’t harm brain cells or cause permanent disability.
A mild stroke is caused when one of the arteries that supplies blood to the brain becomes blocked. In a mild stroke, the blockage corrects itself quickly.
Some people don’t consider a mild stroke to be very serious because of the name. But a TIA is often an early warning sign of a regular stroke. Approximately one in three people who have a TIA go on to have a subsequent stroke. The risk of experiencing a stroke is especially high in the first 48 hours after a TIA.
Approximately 240,000 Americans experience a mild stroke every year. People who have severe strokes usually report seeing earlier warning signs. An estimated 7–40 percent of people who have an ischemic stroke (blockage-related stroke) report having a mild stroke first.
The symptoms of a mild stroke are similar to those of a regular stroke. Mild stroke symptoms include:
- Difficulty understanding speech
- Difficulty speaking
- Muscle weakness or numbness, often only on one side of the body
- Loss of balance
- Vision problems such as a difficulty seeing in one or both eyes or double vision
- Severe headache for no reason
It’s common for mild stroke symptoms to last only a few minutes, but there are cases when they can last up to 24 hours. Because the symptoms of a mild stroke and a regular stroke are similar, you should seek medical attention right away if you experience any of these symptoms. What you think is a mild stroke may actually be a regular stroke, which is much more dangerous.
Symptoms of a mild stroke will typically begin suddenly. It’s essential to recognize these symptoms for what they are and get medical care as soon as possible for optimal mild stroke recovery.
You can use the acronym FAST to memorize the symptoms of a mild stroke. FAST stands for:
Face: Your face may droop on one side, you may find it difficult to smile, or your mouth or eyes may have drooped.
Arms: You may not be able to lift both arms and keep them up because of numbness or weakness in one arm.
Speech: Your speech may be slurred, other people may not be able to understand what you’re saying, you may not be able to talk at all, or you may have difficulty understanding what other people are saying.
Time: It’s time to call for medical assistance as soon as possible if you notice any or all of these signs.
Symptoms of a mild stroke are the same as a regular (major) stroke. However, mild stroke symptoms may last only a few minutes. This is because the blockage fixes itself quickly, restoring blood flow to the brain.
Many factors can increase the risk of a stroke, mild or regular. Some possibly treatable risk factors include:
- Lifestyle risk factors such as being obese or overweight, being physically inactive, binge drinking, smoking, being around secondhand smoke, and the use of illegal drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine
- Medical risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases (e.g., heart defects, heart infections, heart failure, or abnormal heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation), obstructive sleep apnea, and a family or personal history of heart attacks, strokes, or transient ischemic attacks
Some other factors that are associated with a higher risk of mild or regular stroke are:
- Age — People who are 55 or older are at a higher risk than younger people.
- Race — African Americans seem to have a higher chance of stroke compared to other races.
- Sex — Women are at a lower risk for stroke than men. However, women are usually older when they have a stroke, which makes them more likely to die from a stroke than men.
- Hormones — Medications (such as birth control) or hormone therapy that increases estrogen heightens the risk.
The symptoms of a mild stroke and a regular stroke are the same, so it’s essential to get medical help right away. A health care provider will likely order various diagnostic tests such as a computerized tomography (CT) scan or a magnetic resonance imaging scan. These scans can help determine what caused the mild stroke.
Some individuals may also need additional tests, such as a CT angiography, a magnetic resonance angiography, or heart rhythm monitoring to search for possible heart or blood-vessel-related causes.
Your health care provider may prescribe certain medications or procedures depending on the underlying cause of the stroke. For example, you may require:
- Medicine that prevents blood clots
- A procedure known as a carotid endarterectomy to remove plaque (fatty deposits) from the arteries that supply blood to your brain
The prognosis for a mild stroke is excellent; however, a mild stroke occurs before about 15 percent of all strokes. This means that people who experience a mild stroke are at high risk of having a regular stroke.
Up to one in four people who have a mild stroke die within a year. Additionally, one-third of people who have a mild stroke then go on to have a more severe stroke within one year. If you’ve had a mild stroke, your health care provider may recommend medicines and lifestyle changes that can help reduce the chances of a regular stroke. Small changes, such as eating a healthy diet and learning stress management techniques such as yoga and meditation, can help reduce your risk of a future stroke.
If someone has a regular stroke after their mild stroke, their recovery becomes much more complicated. Early treatment for stroke can increase the chances of recovery and improve prognosis. The more severe the stroke, the more of the brain tissue is damaged, and full recovery becomes challenging.
The mild stroke recovery time is quite short. Most people see their symptoms subside within a few minutes to up to 24 hours without medical treatment. However, people who experience a mild stroke should be on high alert for the next 48 hours, as their chances of experiencing a regular stroke are quite high during this period.
Even after 48 hours, people who have had a mild stroke should be aware of their risk of an upcoming stroke. It’s important to learn the signs of a stroke, consider making some lifestyle changes, and talk to your health care provider about preventive steps to take.
Mild strokes are often an early warning sign of a regular stroke. Mild strokes are usually quick, occurring when there is a brief blockage of blood flow to the brain. Mild stroke symptoms are similar to those of a regular stroke but last for only a few minutes up to 24 hours. People who experience a mild stroke shouldn’t ignore the symptoms and need to seek immediate medical help. Mild strokes are often a warning sign of a future regular stroke.