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Don’t ignore the warning signs

07 November 2012

Health Care

Hard-hitting campaigns in the national media have hit their target by raising widespread awareness of stroke symptoms. But now doctors at Southend University Hospital want to make the public as clued-up about mini strokes, or ‘TIAs’.

Transient ischaemic attacks are frequently the precursor of a full-blown stroke so need immediate medical attention. The symptoms are the same as for stroke (FAST: Facial or Arm weakness and/or slurred Speech) but disappear quite quickly. And because they do go away, they are too often just dismissed as a 'funny turn'.

But, says specialist Dr Thaya Loganathan: "One in eight people who have a TIA and are high risk go on to have a full stroke within a week. The risk is highest within 24 hours, so it is extremely important patients seek urgent medical attention to insure prompt treatment as soon as they experience any symptoms."

The strange feelings of weakness, inability to form words properly or sudden loss of vision are caused by a blood clot reducing the blood flow from the heart to the brain. If that clot disperses quickly, the symptoms also disappear.

But, says Dr Loganathan, it is a warning that a more severe stroke could happen any time.

Anyone experiencing such symptoms should see their GP immediately, or go along to Southend's A&E department. They will be referred urgently to the TIA clinic for immediate scans and tests.

Dr Loganathan said: "We have fantastic support from the radiology department, especially the radiographers who ensure patients are scanned without delay. Even an MRI scan can be done on the same day."

Patients found to have narrowing of the carotid artery leading to the brain are also seen within 24 hours by vascular surgeons and urgent treatment arranged.

Dr Loganathan said: "We are concerned that too many people are ignoring mini strokes. But just because the symptoms go away, it does not mean they are not in danger - quite the opposite in fact.

"Our message is just come and get checked. We do not mind at all seeing patients who have not had a TIA - but we don't want to miss one who has. We can give them appropriate treatment and avoid a life-changing stroke."

Case history

Derek Iles knew something was wrong when he went to feed his cat. First, he dropped the bowl and then he was unable to use his left hand properly as he tried to chop up the food.

The 76-year-old retired residential carer, of Brightwell Avenue, Westcliff, phoned a neighbour for help and within a couple of hours he was in a bed in Southend University Hospital, having undergone a series of scans and tests.

They revealed that had had a slight stroke when he arrived at the hospital. But doctors have told him that he is lucky that it was not far more serious.

Derek, who is chairman of Southend Older People's Assembly, admits he had been ignoring some other signs over the previous week or so.

"My eyes kept watering and I had had a fall when I was crossing the road. I was getting my words mixed up, I was tired all the time and had had to hold on to a kitchen worktop when I felt dizzy.

"I had also been having pins and needles in my arm, but just thought it was the way I was sitting.

 "They said I did the right thing to come straight to hospital as I could have been paralysed if I had gone on to have another stroke."

Derek is now on medication and having intensive physiotherapy and has been told that he should regain full use of his left arm.

Now he wants to warn others not to ignore symptoms which could point to a TIA or mini stroke.

"When the paramedic first arrived, I was feeling a bit better and did not want to come to hospital but he insisted. I am glad he did.

"I would advise anyone to get medical help straight away if they experience any signs.

 "I had a lucky escape."


With pic: Patient Derek Iles with Dr Thaya Loganathan