5 Mini Stroke Symptoms Expert Doctors Say Can Be Easily Missed

Updated: Jul. 21, 2024

A mini stroke can signal a more severe stroke in the future. Here, brain doctors and researchers explain how to identify mini stroke symptoms....and, how to respond.

mini stroke symptoms
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Mini stroke, medically referred to as a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), is a condition that the American Stroke Association notes as affecting roughly 240,000 individuals annually in the United States.

Sometimes also spelled ministroke or mini-stroke, the term might make it sound minimal—but the outcome can be significant: Statistics indicate about 20% of those who experience a mini stroke are at risk of suffering a stroke within the subsequent 90 days, which means that understanding the nature and symptoms of a ministroke can be life-saving. A key part of understanding a TIA, or ministroke, is knowing how to identify ministroke symptoms.

A ministroke is essentially a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain, spinal cord, or retina, explains Jonathan Graff-Radford, MD, a Mayo Clinic neurology doctor. Unlike a stroke, a ministroke doesn’t cause lasting damage to brain cells or lead to permanent disability. However, the similarity in symptoms between a TIA and a stroke means that recognizing these early warnings is critical, as the risk of stroke skyrockets within 48 hours post-TIA.

Here’s a valuable tip: To identify stroke or ministroke symptoms, commit to memory the “B.E.F.A.S.T.” acronym:

  • Balance
  • Eyes
  • Face drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech difficulties
  • Time to call 911.

This acronym is a quick reference in serious medical situations, enabling you to swiftly identify stroke and mini stroke symptoms and potentially save a life.

Ahead, learn five ministroke symptoms that expert doctors say are easy to miss but crucial to catch.

Mini stroke symptoms, according to stroke experts

man leaning on the wall and feeling dizzy after mini stroke
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Ministroke symptom 1. Unexplained dizziness or loss of balance

Experiencing a sudden wave of dizziness or an unexplained loss of balance can be a telltale sign of a mini stroke, Dr. Graff-Radford says. Though dizziness and balance issues can stem from various factors, their abrupt onset without a clear cause should raise concerns about a brief disruption of blood flow to the brain.

What to look out for in others: Keep an eye out for someone who suddenly grasps for support, appears unsteady on their feet, or needs to sit down abruptly due to a dizzy spell.

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Young Man Rubbing Eye With Hand
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Ministroke symptom 2. Loss of vision in one or both eyes

A sudden and unexplained loss of vision in one or both eyes can be a ministroke symptom, the American Stroke Association says. This temporary blindness or significant visual disturbance results from a blockage that disrupts blood flow to the retina, serving as a critical ministroke warning sign not to be overlooked.

What to look out for in others: Pay attention if someone suddenly struggles with seeing, blinks excessively, or appears disoriented, trying to focus on objects.

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Woman in pain holding her knee
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Ministroke symptom 3: Weakness or numbness on one side of the body

The American Stroke Association points out that a sudden onset of weakness or numbness in the face, arm, or leg, predominantly affecting just one side of the body, is a common warning signal of a ministroke.

What to look out for in others: Keep an eye out for someone who suddenly has trouble lifting an arm or leg, experiences a droop on one side of their face, or expresses unexpected sensations of numbness or weakness.

Upset senior woman with head in hand sitting at home
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Ministroke symptom 4: Severe headache with no known cause

Headaches can be a common part of life, but a sudden, severe headache without a clear cause can be a red flag for a ministroke according to the Cleveland Clinic. Unlike typical headaches, this pain comes on swiftly and intensely, often without the usual culprits like caffeine withdrawal or dehydration to blame.

What to look out for in others: Keep an eye on someone who suddenly clutches their head in pain, winces, or expresses an unexpected and intense headache.

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confused woman talking to someone
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Ministroke symptom 5. Confusion or difficulty understanding speech

A sudden shift from clarity to confusion or finding it challenging to grasp what others are saying can be a serious indicator of a mini stroke. As a 2022 medical review by expert doctors of stroke patients highlighted “unilateral weakness, aphasia or dysarthria are strongly associated with a high likelihood of TIA.” Aphasia is defined as trouble speaking or understanding language, while dysarthria is characterized by slurred or slow speech that can be difficult to understand.

What to look out for in others: Notice if someone abruptly stops mid-conversation, appears puzzled by familiar language, or struggles to articulate their thoughts clearly.

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The one test you don't want to score high in
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How to respond to mini stroke symptoms:

According to experts, mini stroke symptoms can last anywhere from a few minutes to a full day. If you suspect that you or someone else is experiencing a mini stroke, seek medical assistance without delay. Additionally, it’s vital to consult with a healthcare professional to assess your stroke risk factors, which include:

Proactively addressing and managing these risk factors can help lower the likelihood of experiencing this condition.

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