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Stroke Warning Signs Seen Hours or Days Before Attack

Learn the warning signs of ischemic stroke

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Warning signs of a stroke may appear as early as seven days before an attack and require urgent treatment to prevent serious damage to the brain, according to a study of stroke patients published in the March 8, 2005 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Eighty percent of strokes are "ischemic," caused by the narrowing of the large or small arteries of the brain, or by clots that block blood flow to the brain. They are often preceded by a transient ischemic attack (TIA), a “warning stroke” or “mini-stroke” that shows symptoms similar to a stroke, typically lasts less than five minutes, and does not injure the brain.

The study examined 2,416 people who had experienced an ischemic stroke. In 549 patients, TIAs were experienced prior to the ischemic stroke and in most cases occurred within the preceding seven days: 17 percent occurring on the day of the stroke, 9 percent on the previous day, and 43 percent at some point during the seven days prior to the stroke.

“We have known for some time that TIAs are often a precursor to a major stroke,” said study author Peter M. Rothwell, MD, PhD, FRCP, of the Department of Clinical Neurology at Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford, England. “What we haven’t been able to determine is how urgently patients must be assessed following a TIA in order to receive the most effective preventive treatment. This study indicates that the timing of a TIA is critical, and the most effective treatments should be initiated within hours of a TIA in order to prevent a major attack.”

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 18,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as stroke, Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, autism and multiple sclerosis.

Common symptoms of a TIA, which are similar to those of a stroke yet temporary, include:

 

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

  • Sudden confusion or problems understanding

  • Sudden difficulty speaking

  • Sudden vision difficulty in one or both eyes

  • Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, or difficulty walking

  • Sudden, severe headache with no apparent cause
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