Don’t ignore the signs of a ‘mini stroke’

By June Shannon Coronavirus News   |   11th May 2020

Stroke experts urge the public not to ignore symptoms of a TIA or ‘warning stroke’ as rapid treatment can prevent a potentially disabling stroke

A number of stroke experts have urged the public not to ignore the symptoms of a Transient Ischaemic Attack or ‘TIA’, sometimes referred to as a ‘warning stroke’ or ‘mini stroke’, because rapid investigations and treatment can prevent a major stroke.

Stroke is one of the leading causes of death and physical disability and over 7,000 people are hospitalised with stroke in Ireland every year.

Most strokes are called ischaemic strokes and are due to a blood clot , which blocks an artery and reduces the blood supply to the brain, eye or spinal cord.

Between 4-30 per cent of ischaemic strokes are preceded by a TIA, which is caused by a shorter, ‘temporary reduction’ in blood supply to these areas of the nervous system; this provides patients and doctors with an extremely important window of opportunity for urgent stroke prevention.

Outpatient referrals to their TIA service have reduced by up to 80 per cent over a three week period since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic

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A TIA can cause the same symptoms as a stroke, but they do not last as long, usually resolve in minutes and definitely within 24 hours. An easy way to remember the symptoms of a TIA is to remember that it can cause the “S” symptoms with sudden problems with: 

Sight – blurring or loss of vision or double vision;

Speech – impaired expression, understanding or slurring;

Swallowing (less common than with stroke);

Strength – weakness of the face, arm and/or leg);

Sensation – usually numbness / reduced feeling and less commonly pins and needles in the face, arm and/or leg;

Stability – sudden unsteadiness or a sense that you are moving or the environment around you is moving or spinning, called vertigo.

In a recent letter published in the Irish Times (Tuesday 05th May) Professor Dominick McCabe and Dr Allan McCarthy, Consultant Neurologists at Tallaght University Hospital in Dublin, stated that outpatient referrals to their TIA service have reduced by up to 80 per cent over a three week period since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic compared with a similar period in 2019. They also said there was anecdotal evidence of reduced referrals of patients with suspected TIAs to hospitals around the country, mirroring international experience.

They urged patients with symptoms suggestive of a TIA to make urgent contact with their GP or attend their local Emergency Department (ED) if symptoms occur outside of normal working hours for immediate assessment. GPs or ED staff can then refer patients for urgent assessment by a Stroke Specialist at their local hospital if a TIA is suspected.

With urgent treatment, research has shown that more than 80 per cent of strokes that occur after a TIA can be prevented.

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“In our own hospital, we have maintained access to expedited outpatient specialised blood tests and neurovascular investigations, with face-to-face assessments in appropriate PPE by a Consultant with expertise in TIA and stroke care to establish an accurate diagnosis and commence urgent treatment to optimally prevent a potentially-disabling stroke on the same day,” they wrote.

They advised that with urgent treatment, research has shown that more than 80 per cent of strokes that occur after a TIA can be prevented.

“Therefore, the message is to stay safe and follow all HSE guidelines on COVID-19 regarding social distancing, self-isolation and cocooning etc., but please do not ignore your symptoms and do not stay at home if you have had a suspected TIA which needs urgent medical assessment and treatment,” the Consultant Neurologists concluded.

We are here for you

The Irish Heart Foundation’s nurse support line is available five days a week. Anyone living with heart disease and stroke who has concerns or questions about the coronavirus can contact the nurse support line on 01 668 5001 or support@irishheart.ie.

The Irish Heart Foundation’s new heart support group is on Facebook. Anyone who lives with heart failure or another heart condition or has a family member living with a heart condition can join here: www.facebook.com/groups/heartsupportnetwork/

The Irish Heart Foundation runs 21 stroke support groups and 5 heart failure groups around the country. All these groups have moved to telephone and online support. For more information, see https://irishheart.ie/get-support/.

The Irish Heart Foundation in conjunction with the HSE National Stroke Programme, has launched a new telephone support service for stroke patients who have recently been discharged from hospital. For more information, see here.

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coronavirus Covid-19 ischaemic stroke stroke stroke prevention TIA

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