By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
When I was 13, my grandmother died from a massive stroke after becoming upset over a malfunctioning oil heater. I never forgot the incident and throughout my medical career always put great emphasis on preventing strokes because they can kill or permanently disable you in a flash.
For that reason I take TIAs very seriously. TIA means transient ischemic attack – in common language, a ministroke caused by a blood clot in the arteries supplying the brain with vital blood. TIAs usually last a few minutes (but can be longer) before the clot becomes dissolved by anti-clotting agents in the body.
Typical Ministroke Symptoms
- Sudden numbness, weakness, or paralysis of the face, arms or legs – usually experienced on one side of the body.
- Sudden confusion and difficulty speaking, slurred or garbled speech, or difficulty understanding others.
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes, or double vision.
- Sudden difficulty walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination.
- Sudden headache.
Symptoms are similar to a stroke, but temporary. No permanent damage occurs in the brain. Still, a ministroke may be a prelude to a possible stroke in the future, where the clot is not rapidly dissolved, and brain damage occurs. The American Stroke Association calls it a “warning stroke” because a third of the 50,000 people who experience a ministroke each year have an actual stroke, often within days or weeks.
Ministrokes and strokes are both medical emergencies. Call 9-1-1 if symptoms occur. Your life may depend on fast action, diagnosis, and treatment.
Ministrokes most commonly occur over the age 60. However, 10 to 14 percent of ministrokes and ischemic strokes – the most common type in which the carotid arteries leading to the brain become blocked by plaque – occur in young adults, even teenagers.
Other Major Ministroke Risk Factors
Besides getting older, other major factors that increase your risk of stroke include:
- High blood pressure
- Arterial disease – inflammation and plaque within the cardiovascular system, often in the carotid arteries that deliver blood to the brain
- Atrial fibrillation – a heart irregularity that can lead to clot formation
- A family history of stroke
Ministroke Prevention and Treatment
Treatment for ministroke depends on the results of a thorough medical examination and diagnostic testing, and often includes drugs or carotid surgery to reduce the risk of a full-blown stroke.
Although death rates have declined over the years, the human and economic toll of stroke, according to the American Heart Association, is still “staggering.” More than three-quarters of a million Americans are affected each year, and some 134,000 die. Stroke is a leading cause of functional disability.
Despite all that modern medicine can throw at stroke, doctors agree that the best medicine is prevention. For that purpose I would like to share some tips that you may not hear from conventional doctors.
1. The Right Diet
Prevention starts with eating a heart-healthy diet, which equates to a brain-friendly diet. That means an emphasis on organic fruits and vegetables, fish, and whole grain cereals – along the lines of my Pan-Asian Modified Mediterranean Diet (PAMM). Minimize sugar and refined carbohydrate intake, not only for the weight factor but also because these are primary, largely-ignored sources of arterial inflammation.
2. Reduce Hypertension by Reducing Stress
If stress is the cause, as it often is, you must find ways to defuse the stress. Techniques such as meditation, yoga, regular physical activity, and psychological counseling can help. Stress is a heart and brain killer. People with persistently high blood pressure may need medication, if natural approaches don’t work. Helpful supplements include the following:
- Co-enzyme Q 10 (CoQ10), 100-200 milligrams daily
- Magnesium (400-600 milligrams)
- Potassium (as high as 4 grams in food/supplements)
- Fish or squid oil (1-2 grams)
- Nattokinase (50 milligrams twice a day)
3. Earthing (Grounding)
Connecting your body to the natural, gentle electric energy on the surface of the Earth is a surprisingly unique way to help thin blood, enhance the anti-clotting properties of red blood cells, moderate arrhythmias, normalize blood pressure, improve sleep, and boost circulation. You can connect by being barefoot outdoors or in contact with conductive sheets and mats inside your home. Refer to this article I’ve written or the Earthing book that I co-authored. The Earthing benefits are huge, and potentially lifesaving.
4. Carotid Imaging
Have your doctor listen to your carotid arteries with a stethoscope. If any sounds of obstruction are picked up, your doctor will order an ultrasound analysis to identify plaque formation or abnormal thickening of the arterial tissue, both signs of atherosclerosis (arterial disease). Without imaging proof, you may not know that the carotids are in trouble. There are often no symptoms. The first symptom could be a TIA or, worse, a full-blown stroke.
- American Stroke Association. TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack).
- Ji R, et al. Ischemic stroke and transient ischemic attack in young adults; risk factors, diagnostic yield, neuroimaging, and thrombolysis. JAMA Neurol. 2013;70(1): 51-7.
- Howard VJ, Kissela BM. How do we know if we are making progress in reducing the public health burden of stroke? Stroke. 2012;43(8): 2033-34.
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