Stroke, TIA, And Mental Health

Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke, a total of nearly 800,000 people per year. Many of these might have been prevented if they’d paid attention to the warning signs. A transient ischemic attack, sometimes called a mini-stroke, has the same symptoms as a stroke, and as many as 40 percent of people who have TIAs will go on to have full-fledged strokes.

In fact, researchers are increasingly finding that stroke and TIA differ largely in scale and duration. The cause of a transient ischemic attack is the same as for an ischemic stroke, a blocked artery in the brain. The symptoms of both are slurred speech, difficulty understanding other people, sudden blindness that may been in one or both eyes, weakness or loss of coordination on one side of the body, and sudden numbness or paralysis; the difference is mainly that TIA symptoms are, as the name suggests, transient, typically lasting less than an hour, while stroke symptoms can go on for more than a day. The same preventative measures work for both, including not smoking or using cocaine, drinking alcohol in moderation or not at all, limiting salt intake, maintaining a healthy weight, Keeping diabetes under control if you have it, and getting regular exercise.

More importantly, the complications of both are the same. A condition called executive dysfunction, which is commonly found in people with clinical depression, anxiety disorders, and some forms of autism, is also found in stroke and TIA patients. Executive function includes time management, organization, planning, strategizing, and facility with detail. Two in five stroke and transient ischemic attack patients in one study showed cognitive deficits affecting these skills. Unfortunately, doctors often check only for dementia, and may miss these symptoms.

Poor executive function is also a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder; nearly a quarter of stroke and TIA survivors suffer PTSD, according to a study published this past June, and PTSD is in turn a risk factor for another stroke. This is why mental health care is an important, though often overlooked, part of stroke follow-up.

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