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Dear Savvy Senior,
How can a person know if they’ve had a stroke? My 70-year-old husband had a spell a few weeks ago where he suddenly felt dizzy for no apparent reason and had trouble talking and walking because his left side went numb, but it went away after a few minutes and he feels fine now.
It’s very possible that your husband may have had a “mini-stroke” also known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), and if he hasn’t already done so, he needs to see a doctor pronto.
Each year, more than a quarter-million Americans have a mini-stroke, but only about half of them realize what’s happening. That’s because the symptoms are usually fleeting (lasting only a few minutes, up to an hour or two), causing most people to ignore them or brush them off as no big deal. But anyone who has had a mini-stroke is 10 times more likely to have a full-blown stroke, which can cause long-term paralysis, impaired memory, loss of speech or vision, or even death.
A mini-stroke is caused by a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain, and can be a warning sign that a major stroke may soon be coming. That’s why mini-strokes need to be treated like emergencies.
A person is more likely to suffer a TIA or stroke if they are overweight or inactive, have high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol or diabetes. Other factors that boost the risks are age (over 60), smoking, heart disease, atrial fibrillation and having a family history of stroke. Men also have a greater risk for stroke than women, and African Americans and Hispanics are at higher risk than those of other races.
The symptoms of a mini-stroke are the same as those of a full-blown stroke, but can be subtle and short-lived, and they don’t leave any permanent damage. They include:
•Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg on one side of the body.
•Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
•Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
•Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
•Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.
Anyone who is having any of these symptoms should call 911 immediately. Or, if you’ve had any of them and they went away, ask some one to drive you to the emergency room or nearby stroke center as soon as possible and tell them you may have had stroke.
Take this quiz
More than one-third of mini-stroke suffers will eventually have a full-blown stroke, unless their underlying conditions are treated. If your husband did have a mini-stroke and did not get medical treatment, this self-assessment quiz (known as the ABCD2 tool) can estimate his risk of having a major stroke in the very near future.
•Age: If over age 60 – 1 point.
•Blood pressure: If his systolic blood pressure (top number) is higher than 140 mmHg and/or diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) is higher than 90 – 1 point.
•Clinical features: If he had weakness on one side of his body during the mini-stroke – 2 points. If you had a speech disturbance without weakness – 1 point.
•Duration of symptoms: If his symptoms lasted for 10 minutes to an hour – 1 point. If they lasted an hour or longer – 2 points.
•Diabetes: If he has diabetes – 1 point.
If his score is 3 or less, his risk of having a major stroke within a month of his TIA is 2 percent. A score of 4 or 5 indicates about an 8 percent risk for stroke within 30 days and a 10 percent risk within 90 days. And a score of 6 or 7 estimate a 16 percent chance of stroke in 30 days and around 20 percent within 90 days.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.