Ignoring These 7 Stroke Signs Could Lead to Major Stroke

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Of all sudden cardiac events, I find strokes the most frightening.

Not only are they deadly– strokes are this country’s fifth leading cause of death (heart disease is the first)—but they can be terribly disabling. Without immediate treatment, it’s not uncommon for stroke survivors to lose speech or motor skills and, along with them, their ability to perform basic day-to-day tasks.

Although there are some tests that can help predict your stroke risk, there is only one genuine warning sign that a stroke is likely in your future: a ministroke. Let’s take a closer look at these events:

What Are Ministrokes?

Ministrokes—also called transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) or “warning strokes”—are just like regular strokes in that they’re caused by clots that cut off circulation to part of the brain.

The difference between a ministroke and a regular stroke is that a ministroke lasts for only a minute or two, until natural clot-busting agents in the blood dissolve the blockage and symptoms pass.

Ministroke and stroke share the same symptoms, all of which come on suddenly:

  • Face, arms, legs (often on one side of the body) become numb, weak or paralyzed
  • Speech becomes difficult: slurred, garbled
  • Becoming confused or finding it difficult to understanding what others are talking about
  • Vision changes, in one or both eyes
  • Walking becomes difficult, there’s a loss of balance or coordination
  • Becoming dizzy
  • Developing a severe headache

Ministrokes (TIAs) Are Often Warnings that “Real” Strokes Are About to Happen

Unique Risks and Signs of Ministroke in Women

Smoking, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, and family history are well-known risk factors for both ministrokes and full-blown strokes, across the entire population. However, if you are a woman, you also face some additional risk factors and symptoms. These include—

  • Taking birth control pills in combination with older age (35-plus), smoking, or diabetes
  • Pregnancy
  • Conventional hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • History of migraine headaches with aura

Women’s stroke symptoms also can present differently than men’s. In addition to the classic ones I mentioned earlier, other signs of a ministroke in a woman include:

  • Loss of consciousness or fainting
  • General weakness
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Confusion, unresponsiveness or disorientation
  • Sudden behavioral change
  • Agitation
  • Hallucination
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain
  • Seizures
  • Hiccups

Failure to Act: The Most Common Ministroke Mistake

Because ministrokes come and go so quickly, many people don’t respond to them as they should. Some people never fully realize what’s happening, and instead attribute their symptoms to being overly tired, hungry, or otherwise not feeling well. Others incorrectly assume the danger is past when the episode is past. Worse yet, they may deny that there was ever any danger to begin with.

All of these responses put your health—and potentially your life—at risk.

Anyone experiencing the symptoms of a ministroke should seek treatment at the emergency room immediately—even if those symptoms have passed.

Though you may appear to be fine, you’re not. Ministrokes are warnings that circulation to your brain is significantly compromised, and that you may soon suffer a full-blown stroke.  According to National Stroke Association statistics, 40 percent of people who have a ministroke will go on to have the real deal—and almost half of those strokes will occur within a few days of the ministroke.

Seeking immediate treatment can ensure that you receive therapies—such as blood-thinning drugs—that help you avoid a more catastrophic event.

Ministroke Side Effects Can Include Long-Term Cognitive Damage

Early treatment also may help minimize ministroke side effects.

Traditionally, we’ve thought that because ministrokes are transient, they have no lasting effects on the brain. But that may not be true, based on research over the past few years.

Ministrokes have been identified as a common thread in many people with symptoms of dementia.

In 2012, the University of Rochester Medical Center observed that an estimated 55 percent of people with mild dementia, and approximately 70 percent of people with more advanced dementia, had evidence of past ministrokes. Researchers at the institution shared this information along with the results of an animal study indicating that ministrokes affect neuronal activity in the brain for longer than previously thought.

Since then, additional studies have begun looking more closely at the relationship between ministrokes and brain function—and they’re finding that ministroke side effects are real.

A 2014 study published in the journal Stroke compared the cognitive skills of people with a history of ministroke to those of a control group. Researchers found that more than one-third of the participants who’d suffered a ministroke scored lower on at least one of the tests administered. The tests measured memory, attention, and information processing speed.

A second study, this one involving more than 23,000 people enrolled in the REGARDS study, linked stroke symptoms and ministrokes with an increased likelihood of developing memory and thinking problems.

Ministroke Takeaway

Because the stakes are so high with stroke—both small and large—it’s imperative that you understand the risk factors and symptoms outlined above.

If you experience any of the symptoms in a way that seems unusual to you, seek help immediately. Don’t assume that you are out of the woods simply because the symptoms go away. Instead, acknowledge them as potential signs of a ministroke and take action. It could help save your brain and your life.

Tests That Can Help Predict Your Risk of Stroke 


© 2016, 2018 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.

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  1. Mrs. Barbara Faust

    on November 10, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    My 41 year old daughter-in-law was recently told she’d RECENTLY had 3 mini strokes. She does NOT have any cholesterol, blood pressure or family history problems to blame them on. She has had 4 operations on her brain to remove cancerous tumors, starting from age 13, and has had a lot of Chemo and Radiation, and was already on seizure meds past 10 years.
    Despite my son taking her first to the ER, then to her family physician, to her neurologist, to her surgeon and had several MRI’S taken, we still do not know
    (A) why she got 3 mini-strokes
    (B) how to prevent future strokes.
    So whats left to do?


    on November 10, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    My mother had mini strokes and she ended up with dementia.

  3. Samir G.

    on November 10, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    I have had a TIA back in 2008 and went on Cartia (blood thinners). Went for various tests and it was found out that I have minor stenosis [blockage] on my right Carotid artery. In 2010, I had another TIA and the doctor put me on Asasantin (blood thinner of a higher ‘calibre’). Since then, I do regular Carotid artery tests and have been fine. I am now 69 years of age.

  4. Diane

    on November 12, 2016 at 10:09 am

    Thank you for this valuable information. Is sudden ringing in the ears also a symptom of a mini-stroke?

  5. Barbara

    on February 2, 2017 at 3:08 am

    Please comment on ringing of the ears.

    I suffered a concussion in a 2014 hit & run accident and many symptoms that I still have are some of the same ones mentioned for a mini-stroke.

  6. Gary

    on February 23, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    I had a severe concussion in 2012 and later found out that I had two full blown strokes during or after the concussion. Is there anything I can do to eliviate chances of more strokes?

  7. Karen Miles

    on February 8, 2018 at 2:15 pm

    For the last several months my left eye tends to wander slightly. When I look in the mirror my eye sometimes seems to be a little off and not looking directly back at me. A younger brother has had this eye problem from birth, so it is in the family history. However I have another younger bro that had a stroke at age 56 and an older sister that had an aneurism above her eye which was successfully treated. Does this sound like a red flag? I am going to have it checked out! Any comments? Karen

  8. Edwina

    on February 8, 2018 at 3:20 pm

    Even if you’re having TIAs, or have had a stroke, you don’t have to use pharmaceutical blood thinners. There are supplements that work as well and even better without any side effects. I know this personally from helping my mother and myself.

  9. brit

    on February 27, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    Edwina can you share which supplements? I have occasional a-fib and cardiologist wanted me on Eliquis but I feel not enough is known about this drug plus can cause serious bleed in brain. I do take 1/2 the suggested dose twice daily plus I eat a clean vegan diet with lots of fruits/veggies/seeds/nuts and take fish oil.

  10. betsy

    on March 1, 2019 at 4:44 pm

    I had a pulmonary embolism and wanted to get off the drugs as soon as possible. Nattokinese has worked perfectly! Pharmaceuticals have only been around since the early 1900’s. Since then, have we become sicker? Find proper supplementation for all your prescriptions. No, there are not many double blind, million dollar studies on supplements. They would cost too much. Quackwatch and other organizations that disparage supplementation over pharmaceuticals are paid, by, guess who??

  11. Alex

    on March 2, 2019 at 10:51 am

    I used to have very thick blood, fish oil helps but what I found was that Curcumin thins my blood extremely well, in fact I had to stop taking it every other day and settled on 1 500mg capsule every other day. I initially took it to help with inflammation and for it’s anti cancer properties. It’s important to note that Curcumin can be poorly absorped, there are different formulations for increasing the rate of absorption some of which are very expensive. Curcumin is a part of the Asian spice Turmeric. I’ve tried different formulations and brands and have settled on Curcumin Phytosome with Meriva from Doctors Best. I take 1,000mg of fish oil per day as well. Please do your own research particularly in to the different methods of enhanced absorption. Best of luck, Alex.

  12. Alex

    on March 4, 2019 at 3:36 pm

    Just to clarify my above message it should read in the second line “one 500mg capsule”.

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