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Report: Dangers of strokes and mini-strokes underestimated


February 10, 2000
Web posted at: 4:20 p.m. EST (2120 GMT)

(CNN) -- The National Stroke Association has started a new education campaign after a report revealed that the threat of strokes is more serious than many people believe.

The medical report released Thursday said there is evidence that the general public and physicians underestimate the prevalence of strokes and the dangers of mini-strokes, which are called transient ischemic attacks or TIAs.

TIAs often precede full-blown strokes. Almost 40 percent of adults who have been diagnosed with TIAs go on to suffer a major stroke. That totals about 2 million Americans, according to the National Stroke Association.

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. The symptoms of a TIA are the same as for a stroke but occur for a shorter time, perhaps only a few minutes, and appear to cause no permanent damage. A major stroke is often characterized by paralysis, profound disability, dependency or death.

About 2.5 percent of American adults have been diagnosed with TIAs, according to the report from the National Stroke Association. Among adults 65 years and older, the rate appears to be 8.5 percent.

"Most physicians previously thought the prevalence rate of TIA was much lower than what this survey uncovered, perhaps somewhere around 1 percent," said Dr. J. Donald Easton, chair of clinical sciences at Brown University in Rhode Island.

The survey of 10,112 U.S. adults found that only 13 percent had heard of a TIA.

"TIAs are a serious warning of a possible impending stroke," said Dena Van Husen, acting presidento of the National Stroke Association. "That is why it is imperative that physicians and patients recognize TIA and work together to identify and treat the cause to try and prevent a full-blown stroke."

Symptoms of a major stroke and TIA include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.

  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.

  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.

  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.

  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

    Experts recommend obtaining immediate medical attention when these symptoms appear.

    Van Husen said, "People need to recognize the symptoms and call 911 immediately. Today there are new and effective medications that can treat the condition that caused a TIA and significantly reduce the risk of stroke."

    More than three times as many Americans die each year from brain attacks, or strokes, than from motor-vehicle collisions, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The top three causes of deaths of Americans are heart disease, cancer and stroke.

    The National Stroke Association also reported that once a minute someone in the United States has a stroke, and that over the course of a lifetime, four of every five American families will be touched by stroke.

    CNN Health Correspondent Rhonda Rowland contributed to this report.

    Preventative measures best weapon against heart disease and stroke
    November 30, 1999
    FDA: Drug helps lower risk of strokes
    November 23, 1999

    National Stroke Association
    American Heart Association

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