After a mini-stroke, the patient's brain may be losing oxygen, raising the chances of a major stroke, Coutts said.
Patients at the greatest risk are those who suffer a series of TIAs. Fifty-three percent of these patients had a disability, compared with 12 percent of those who had only a single mini-stroke.
TIA symptoms include a sudden inability to move one side of the body, numbness on one side, dizziness and trouble walking and speaking. These symptoms may pass quickly, but should not be taken lightly because ignoring them could be fatal, Coutts said.
"This is another important paper adding to the evidence that mild stroke may not be so mild when we evaluate the impact on subsequent disability," said Dr. Ralph Sacco, chairman of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "We also know that patients with TIA are at high risk for subsequent stroke."
The study adds to the urgency of rapid diagnosis and treatment of all TIA and stroke patients, to reduce recurrence and improve outcomes, Sacco said.
"Patients and physicians need to take any stroke symptoms -- even the mild or rapidly vanishing ones -- very seriously," he said.
Another expert, Dr. Igor Rybinnik, a neurologist at the Cushing Neuroscience Institute at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, N.Y., added that a TIA is a "wake-up call telling you bigger strokes may be coming."
Rybinnik said such an episode should make patients reduce their cardiovascular risk factors by lowering their blood pressure and cholesterol, quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight.
To help recognize symptoms of a stroke, the American Stroke Association recommends remembering the acronym "F.A.S.T.":
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