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Stroke vs. Mini-Stroke Symptoms, Differences & Recovery

Stroke vs. mini-stroke (TIA) comparison of differences

Stroke vs. mini-stroke (TIA) similarities and differencesA stroke and mini-stroke (transient ischemic attack) have similarities and differences.

  • Mini-stroke (transient ischemic attack, TIA) and stroke usually are caused by blockage of an artery in the brain, and less often by bleeding into the brain tissue.
  • Strokes usually are classified as either ischemic or hemorrhagic.
  • The causes of strokes and min-strokes (transient ischemic attack, TIA) are the same, however, blood flow leakage or blockage is temporary in mini-strokes, and blood flow returns spontaneously. In most strokes, blood flow does not return spontaneously.
  • The majority of mini-strokes produce symptoms that are temporary, while the majority of strokes produce symptoms that are often long lasting, and cause permanent disability.
  • Symptoms of a mini-stroke may include one or more of the following:
    • Weakness or numbness in your arms and/or legs, usually on one side of the body
    • Dysphasia (difficulty speaking)
    • Dizziness
    • Vision changes
    • Tingling (paresthesias)
    • Abnormal taste and/or smells
    • Confusion
    • Loss of balance
    • Altered consciousness and/or passing out
  • Symptoms of a stroke include those of a mini-stroke, but the symptoms do not resolve.
  • Treatment for mini-stroke usually is medication to reduce blood clot risk, reduction of other risk factors (smoking, for example) and follow-up to consider surgery if the cause is an aneurysm that occasionally slowly leaks blood.
  • A stroke is a medical emergency and treatment depends upon the type of stroke. A stroke caused by a blood clot (ischemic) is treated with clot busting drugs or mechanical methods to remove the clot. Hemorrhagic (bleeding into brain tissue) stroke requires life-saving surgery, performed by a neurosurgeon.
  • Mini-strokes symptoms are short-term that resolve, while strokes often produce long-term symptoms (disabilities).
  • In mini-strokes, normal function returns quickly, but with strokes, normal function may never return.
  • Recovery of normal function occurs quickly in mini-strokes, but strokes usually have an extended time for recovery that includes therapy.
  • In mini-strokes, blood flow returns spontaneously (the body resolves the blockage and/or leakage) and causes little or no damage to brain cells, whereas strokes do not have spontaneous blood flow return (the body does not resolve the blockage and/or leakage) and brain cells are permanently damaged and/or destroyed.
  • Damage from a stroke is permanent, and an individual may never regain normal function of the part of the body affected.
  • Other terms for stroke include cerebral vascular accident (CVA). Other terms for mini stroke include TIA, transient ischemic attack, and mini-stroke.

Stroke vs. Aneurysm Symptoms and Signs

Unless a brain aneurysm leaks or bursts open, there usually aren’t any symptoms. However, if the aneurysm does leak or burst open, then signs and symptoms are the same for a stroke, which also is the cause of a hemorrhagic stroke. A very slow leak from a brain aneurysm may cause headaches or a
large aneurysm may cause:

  • blurry vision,
  • loss of vision,
  • facial droop, and
  • possibly headaches.

The symptoms and signs for ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke are similar, and include;

  • confusion,
  • loss of memory,
  • vision problems,
  • seizures, and
  • headaches.

If you think someone is having a stroke or aneurysm call 911 immediately.

Read more about the differences in symptoms and life expectancy of stroke vs. aneurysm »

What are stroke and mini-stroke (TIA)? What causes them?

A stroke occurs when brain tissue becomes deprived of oxygen resulting in malfunction of the brain, and brain tissue is damaged or destroyed. A stroke usually is due to either blockage (ischemic) or leakage (hemorrhage) of blood flow by an artery that supplies oxygen rich blood to areas in the brain. If the extent of brain tissue damage is large, the person may die. A stroke is a medical emergency. It is the fifth most common cause of death in the U.S.

A subset of strokes is termed a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or "mini-stroke." In a mini-stroke, brain cells are dysfunctional for short period of time and produce symptoms similar to stroke. However, mini-stroke symptoms and signs usually are resolved within a short time (minutes to hours) (usually because the brain's arteries involved are only blocked, or may leak blood into the brain, intermittently).


What is a stroke?
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What are the warning signs and symptoms of stroke vs. mini-stroke?

Warning signs and symptoms of a stroke and mini-stroke are the same, and include:

  • Weakness or numbness in your arms and/or legs, usually on one side of the body
  • Dysphasia (difficulty speaking)
  • Dizziness
  • Vision changes
  • Tingling (paresthesias)
  • Abnormal taste and/or smells
  • Confusion
  • Loss of balance
  • Altered consciousness and/or passing out

How long do the symptoms of stroke vs. mini-stroke last?

Stroke symptoms typically last more than 24 hours, and may or may not resolve, even with therapy. Some stroke symptoms may never resolve or get better.

TIA symptoms last for a short time. Symptoms can begin to resolve in about 1 to 5 minutes, which is typical, but some may take about 24 hours to resolve.

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How can you tell if a person is having a stroke or mini-stroke (FAST)?

The term "FAST" is an easy way to help determine if a person is having a stroke or mini-stroke, and what you should do. FAST applies to both mini-strokes and strokes. The National Stroke Association and other organizations suggest that you use FAST as a way to remember what to look for, and what to do if a person develops any of these warning signs and symptoms of a stroke or mini-stroke.

  • F stands for face. Ask the person to smile, if one side of the face droops, it is a warning sign.
  • A stands for arms. Ask the person to lift both arms, if one arm drifts down or has difficulty moving, it is a warning sign.
  • S stands for speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase, if the speech is slurred or odd, it is a warning sign.
  • T stands for time: If a person develops any of the warning signs, it is time to call 911 and have him or her evaluated for a stroke and/or mini-stroke at an emergency department.

What is worse, a stroke or mini-stroke?

The answer to this question depends upon several factors. Many doctors would conclude that a large hemorrhagic stroke is the worst kind of stroke because they often are untreatable, and cause devastating damage to the brain from which there is little or no recovery. However, other types of strokes, for example, a blood clot in the brain, also can have similar devastating consequences. These strokes can result in disability and death just like hemorrhagic strokes. Some people consider being unable to care for themselves as a fate worse than death, and would say that survival with extreme disabilities (cannot feed themselves, unable to talk, cannot do any personal hygiene, for example) is the worst kind of stroke. Perhaps the worst kind of stroke is the one that occurs in yourself or your loved one, no matter to what extent is the disability.

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Which side effects of stroke vs. mini-stroke are the same?

The after/side effects of stroke and mini-strokes can be the same, especially immediately after any symptoms develop, and can include:

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arms and/or legs, often the weakness is only on one side of the body
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  • Abrupt loss of vision in one or both eyes
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance and/or coordination
  • Confusion

What are the differences between the side effects of stroke vs. mini-stroke?

All of the signs and symptoms of mini-strokes usually resolve within five minutes; a few people resolve in less than 24 hours.

Stroke side effects and symptoms last longer than 24 hours. Some may last a lifetime. The early symptoms of stroke may resolve partially, or never. When this happens, other signs and symptoms such as depression, muscle atrophy (muscle loss), and worsening of early symptoms may progress over time.

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Can a mini-stroke lead to other types of strokes?

TIAs or mini-strokes are considered by the American Stroke Association to be major warning signs of a stroke. For example, about 7% to 40% of individuals experiencing a stroke report having a TIA sometime before their first stroke. Moreover, about one-third of people who have a mini-stroke have a stroke within a year after their mini-stroke.

What is the treatment for stroke vs. mini-stroke?

Strokes and mini-strokes are not treated exactly the same. Strokes are a medical emergency. Treatment for a stroke begins with a CT scan of the brain to help determine the difference between a blood clot in the brain or an artery rupture and hemorrhage. The type of treatment then depends upon the type of stroke.

A mini-stroke also is a medical emergency. However, by the time the person receives medical care, the mini-stroke symptoms may have resolved, or are resolving. Hospitalization for TIA may be necessary for additional tests, and prescription medication and/or surgery may be necessary depending upon the cause.

Mini-strokes may predict that an individual may (up to 40% chance) have a stroke within a year of the TIA.

What is the recovery time and life expectancy for stroke vs. mini-stroke?

Mini-strokes or TIAs resolve spontaneously, and the individual recovers normal function quickly, usually within a few minutes up to about 24 hours without medical treatment. The prognosis for TIA is very good; however, TIAs frequently (up to 40%) are the way of telling you that in the next year you may have a stroke.

The recovery and prognosis for a stroke is quite variable. Early treatment may increase recovery and improve prognosis. Unfortunately, the prognosis and recovery decline if a stroke is severe (a large area of brain tissue is damaged and/or dies) or the symptoms are present for more than a few hours and the individual is outside of the window for treatment.


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