Reducing Heart Risk After a Mini-Stroke

Healthy Heart|Nov.12, 2018


It was a moment like any other.

But then your head began to pound. Your right arm to tingle. When you tried to complete the simplest task, you couldn't — your arm felt like a club. Suddenly, your legs gave out, and as you collapsed to the floor, you remember thinking, "Am I having a stroke?"

Fortunately, help arrived soon. In the emergency room, you learned you'd had a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a mini-stroke.

While symptoms went away within several hours, your concern that it could happen again did not. The good news is you absolutely can live a full life after a mini-stroke. Here's how.

A Heart Health Warning Is an Opportunity

Like strokes, mini-strokes occur when a blockage occurs in a major artery to your brain, disrupting the flow of blood and oxygen. The difference is in a mini-stroke, the disruption lasts only minutes, so there's no permanent damage.

Even though the blockage is only temporary, it indicates a heart health problem: a partially blocked artery or a clot source in your heart. The American Stroke Association calls them "warning-strokes" because they signal that a stroke may be on its way. About 1 out of 3 people who have a TIA will have a severe stroke within a year.

But a warning is not a life sentence. It's a second chance, a wake-up call — an opportunity to think more about your future, change your lifestyle and take steps to prevent a stroke.

Doctor's Orders Pave the Way

As part of a TIA diagnosis, doctors run tests to determine the underlying cause of your mini-stroke. Initial tests include measuring your blood pressure and running blood tests for high cholesterol and diabetes. They will also likely run tests to check your heart and brain health.

Initiating immediate and correct treatment can help reduce your risk of a later stroke. Your treatment plan may include daily medication and referral to a specialist for further evaluation. Be sure to ask your doctor about any restrictions in your daily life, such as avoiding long periods of sitting or certain types of exercise.

Partnering with your doctor and adhering to the plan is your best bet for a healthier, stroke-free future.

Living a Heart-Healthy Life

A common cause of a TIA is coronary artery disease (CAD), which refers to a buildup of fatty substances in the arteries of the heart, known as atherosclerosis. Reducing your risk of heart disease is crucial in a stroke prevention plan.

Positive heart healthy choices, which can control atherosclerosis, include eating a healthy diet, getting moderate exercise and keeping your weight in a healthy range. Perhaps the most impactful change you can make is to quit or refrain from smoking, a huge risk factor for stroke.

The best part is these changes do more than just decrease your risk of stroke. Living a heart-healthy life will give you more energy and help you live your best life overall.

Enjoy Life and Have Fun

Knowing you're taking steps to prevent a stroke will enable you to relax and take part in the fun of life.

Take some time off work, book a massage, indulge in a fun night out to dinner or just take the time to listen to your favorite music. Doing things you enjoy reduces stress, which can improve your heart health and reduce stroke risk.

After a mini-stroke, you've been given another opportunity. Take it, enjoy it and remember to embrace every minute of it.