The Differences Between a Stroke and a TIA

Did you know that every year, nearly 800,000 people have a stroke in the United States alone? Or that of those people nearly 140,000 Americans die as a result of having a stroke? In this post we’ll give you more facts about strokes, and we’ll dispel some common misconceptions. We’ll also give you preventative steps you can take. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started.

What is a stroke?

According to the American Stroke Association, “A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts (or ruptures). When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it and brain cells die.”

The two main types of stroke are an Ischemic stroke and a Hemorrhagic stroke. Many people think a Transient Ischemic Attack or TIA is the same as a stroke. In fact, it’s even called a “mini-stroke.” But, it’s different from the major stroke types because the blood flow blockage typically only occurs for five minutes or less. However, TIAs are usually a warning sign of a future stroke.

Most of the strokes that people have are an Ischemic stroke. A whopping 87 percent of them are an Ischemic stroke, and they occur when blood flow through the artery that supplies oxygen-rich blood to the brain becomes blocked. This often is a result of a blood clot.

A Hemorrhagic stroke results from an artery in the brain leaking blood or rupturing. This blood leak then puts too much pressure on the cells of the brain, damaging them. Just two conditions that can lead to Hemorrhagic stroke are aneurysms and high blood pressure.

Determining a Stroke via Imaging

There are several lab tests used to diagnose a stroke. If you’ve had a stroke in the past, you are significantly more likely to have another one in the future. Believe it or not, 25-35 percent of people who have a stroke, will have another within in their lifetime. While your symptoms may be an indicator to look for a stroke, tell your doctor if you have had one in the past, so they know to test you to see if you’ve had another one.

A few of the imaging tests that can be used to diagnose a stroke are:

  • CAT scans/ CT Scans: This is considered the best test to determine a stroke, but it does not always guarantee a diagnosis. The reason for this is that even if you are currently having a stroke, your brain may not look abnormal to a diagnostic imager for several hours.
  • MRI: Using a powerful magnetic field, a computer, and radio frequency pulses, your doctor can produce images of the brain to assess if there has been any brain damage resulting from stroke.
  • Carotid/ Doppler Ultrasound: This test allows physicians to see if there are blockages in or narrowing of the two carotid arteries in the neck. These arteries carry blood to the brain from the heart, and this ultrasound test provides detailed images of blood vessels and produces pertinent blood flow information.
  • Cerebral Angiography: Performed via X-Ray, CT or MRI, your doctor will produce images of the brain’s major blood vessels to detect or even confirm any abnormalities that may be present.

 

Additional tests used to determine stroke include blood tests, and Electrocardiograms (EKG).

How Can You Determine a Stroke On Your Own?

The faster you can get treatment for a person having a stroke, the more likely they are to survive. How can you tell if someone is having a stroke, though? Symptoms include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

It is recommended you call 9-1-1 immediately if you notice yourself, or someone else with these symptoms. The CDC also recommends using the F.A.S.T. test to quickly diagnose a stroke patient. Here’s how to do the test yourself:

F—Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?
T—Time: If you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 right away.

Note the time when any symptoms first appear. This information helps health care providers determine the best treatment for each person. Do not drive to the hospital or let someone else drive you. Call an ambulance so that medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment on the way to the emergency room.

Ways to Prevent a Stroke

A few of the things you can do to prevent a stroke include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Getting to a healthy weight for your age and height
  • Limit alcohol consumption to less than two drinks per week
  • If you are diabetic, make sure you are taking the right medications, and keeping your diabetes under control
  • Stop smoking
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Exercise regularly

Finally, be sure to get annual physical examinations with your primary care physician. The sooner your doctor can determine if anything is amiss, the sooner they can treat it. What they learn in these annual exams is important. It could just save your life!

Posted in: CT Scan, CTA, MRI

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