Transient ischemic attack, TIA or "mini" stroke, which doctors consider too mild to treat, can cause serious disability if not treated quickly, finds a study.
The study suggested that some patients with minor stroke may benefit from clot-busting drug treatment.
"Our study shows that TIA and minor stroke patients are at significant risk of disability and need early assessment and treatment," said Shelagh Coutts, M.D., lead author of the study at Foothills Hospital in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
"We should be imaging patients earlier and be more aggressive in treating patients with thrombolysis if we can see a blockage no matter how minor the symptoms are," Coutts stated.
Thrombolysis is a treatment used to dissolve dangerous clots and restore healthy blood flow to the brain. TIA and minor stroke patients don't typically receive this treatment because the condition is frequently not deemed serious enough to warrant it, researchers said.
Among the 499 patients studied, 15 percent had at least minor disability 90 days after their original "mini stroke." Minor disability was defined as being unable to carry out previous activities, but capable of and handling personal affairs without assistance.
Computed tomography (CT) scans showed some "mini stroke" patients had narrowed blood vessels in the brain, and others reported ongoing or worsening symptoms. Those patients were more than twice as likely to have disability at 90 days. Coutts suggested that thrombolysis treatment should be considered in these patients.
Patients with type 2 diabetes had a similarly high risk of disability. Also, women were nearly twice as likely as men to be disabled 90 days after TIA.
"For every second after a mini stroke, the patient's brain may be losing oxygen - possibly leading to a major event. If a scan finds that you have a narrowing of a blood vessel in or outside of the brain, you are at a high risk of being disabled," Coutts said.
Recurrent strokes posed the greatest threat to patients. Of those who had recurrent strokes, 53 percent were disabled, compared to 12 percent of patients without a recurrent stroke.
The results appeared in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.