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Most People Unaware They've Had a Minor Stroke

Few seek timely medical treatment, researchers find

THURSDAY, April 15 (HealthDay News) -- Many people who have either a minor stroke or so-called mini-stroke aren't aware of it or don't seek medical treatment for more than 24 hours afterwards, finds a new study.

British researchers analyzed data from 1,000 patients, average age 73, who had a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or a minor stroke. A TIA -- often called by the misnomer "mini-stroke" -- occurs when a blood clot temporarily clogs an artery and blocks blood flow to the brain. A minor stroke can cause symptoms that include unexpected trouble speaking, as well as vertigo, balance problems, and temporary weakness or numbness of an arm or leg.

While TIAs and minor strokes don't typically cause permanent brain damage, early treatment of these conditions reduces the risk of a more serious stroke.

In this study, the researchers found that most patients were unaware they had had a minor stroke or TIA -- 68 percent of TIA patients and 69 percent of minor stroke patients didn't know the cause of their symptoms. Only 47 percent of the patients with a TIA and 46 percent of patients with a minor stroke sought medical attention within three hours of symptom onset -- the time limit for use of a clot-busting drug.

Among the other findings:

  • Few patients were aware of the symptoms of a minor stroke.
  • 67 percent of TIA or mini-stroke patients and 74 percent of minor stroke patients sought medical attention within 24 hours.
  • 77 percent of patients saw their primary care doctor first instead of seeking emergency medical care.
  • 30 percent of patients who suffered a recurrent stroke didn't seek timely medical attention.
  • TIA patients were more likely to delay seeking medical attention if their physical and speech abilities were normal, if symptoms were short-lasting, or if their symptoms occurred on a Friday, weekend or holiday.

The findings, published online April 15 in the journal Stroke, "indicate a lack of public awareness that TIA is a medical emergency," and suggest the need for more public education, study author Arvind Chandratheva, a clinical research fellow in the Stroke Prevention Research Unit, department of clinical neurology, University of Oxford, said in a news release.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about stroke.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, April 15, 2010

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