Strokes and Transient Ischemic Attacks
Troy Anderson, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep specialist on staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center in Phoenix. His office can be reached at 623-535-0050.
Question: What are the signs and symptoms of stroke? What is the difference between strokes and TIAs?
Answer: Stroke is a medical emergency, just like a heart attack. Patients who receive treatment within three hours of the onset of symptoms are likely to have the best possible recovery. Those patients are eligible for, and may benefit from a drug called tPA (Tissue Plasminogen Activator). This emergent medication is offered at Banner Estrella Medical Center.
This drug has been found to dramatically improve outcomes for stroke patients, even reverse the damage, but it can only be given within a very short three-hour window after the stroke has begun. It is very important that you can pinpoint when the symptoms began for paramedics and physicians.
To recognize a stroke, ask the person to do the following:
- Ask the person to raise both of their arms
- Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence;
- Ask the person to smile
These are normally easy tasks. So, if the individual suddenly can only lift one arm, if their smile is unusually crooked, or if they are too confused to repeat a simple sentence you should be very concerned. These are classic signs a stroke is about to occur or is already underway.
It is also possible that the individual is experiencing a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA). A TIA is a reversible condition that does not usually cause permanent tissue damage in the brain. Essentially, it is a warning that the person was about to suffer a stroke, but the body was able to clear the blood clot on its own. Never assume you will have multiple warnings of this kind. Talk to a physician immediately about the best ways to reduce the risk of stroke.
Your risk for stroke increases with age, but strokes can occur in very young individuals, too. Several conditions can mimic a stroke, including migraine headaches, subdural hemorrhage, and even brain tumors and seizures. Don’t wait to figure it out yourself, seek emergency care.