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Seniors' Health: Get speedy care for a minor stroke

Treatment within 24 hours reduces the risk of a major recurrence over the next three months

A British study has shown that getting fast treatment for a minor stroke can head off a major one.

A minor stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a brief stoppage in the brain’s blood supply due to a temporary clot in a blood vessel. The symptoms usually disappear within an hour and can include numbness or weakness, confusion or trouble speaking, vision problems, and loss of balance or co-ordination.

Someone who experiences a minor stroke or TIA is at increased risk for suffering a major stroke, which can cause permanent disability. But researchers at Oxford University in England have found that getting drug treatment for the TIA within 24 hours reduces that risk by 80 per cent.

The study compared outcomes in 310 patients who received standard outpatient treatment through their family doctor and 281 patients who were referred for immediate assessment and treatment in an urgent-care outpatient clinic.

On average, 20 days elapsed before patients treated through their family doctor received prescription medication, whereas patients treated in the urgent-care clinic received treatment within 24 hours. Within the next 90 days, 10 per cent of patients who had delayed treatment suffered a recurrent stroke, compared with only two per cent of patients who got fast treatment — an 80 per cent reduction in risk.

“A lot of family doctors sometimes aren’t always certain of the diagnosis, and they send the patient to a clinic to see a neurologist to make sure that it really was a TIA or a minor stroke, and that’s fine — that’s good to do. But it’s better to start all the treatments first, just in case it is a TIA or minor stroke, and then the specialist can stop them if necessary,” says Dr. Peter Rothwell, a study co-author.

“You’ll end up with a few days of unnecessary treatment in some patients, but there’s no harm there. But that way you make sure that everybody who needs treatment gets on to treatment.”