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Oliver: Coach's collapse sheds light on 'mini-strokes'

When Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak collapsed on the field during halftime of the team’s game Nov. 3 against the Indianapolis Colts, it wasn’t immediately known what had happened.

Many people probably assumed, given Kubiak’s age of 52, gender and occupation, that he had a heart problem. That was my first thought, too, until the team quickly announced that it was not a heart attack.

Tests confirmed that Kubiak instead had suffered a transient ischemic attack, also known as a TIA. 

Such “mini-strokes” occur when stroke symptoms are present for a short period of time, usually no more than 24 hours, according to the National Stroke Association.

Symptoms include sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, particularly on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden vision problems in one or both eyes; and sudden dizziness, trouble walking or loss of coordination or balance.

That would explain Kubiak’s collapse along the sidelines.

I was particularly interested in Kubiak’s condition since my mother recently suffered a TIA.

In her case, the symptoms were trouble speaking and vision problems that lasted about 30 minutes.

In Kubiak’s case, he was taken to an area hospital immediately, which is recommended, since it’s impossible to tell at the time whether it’s a TIA or a real stroke. And there’s a saying that “Time is brain,” meaning that the more time that elapses, the greater the chance that permanent brain damage is occurring.

So what causes a TIA? The National Stroke Association states that it’s one of three things: low blood flow at a narrow part of a major artery carrying blood to the brain; a blood clot from another part of the body breaks off and blocks a blood vessel in the brain; or narrowing of a smaller blood vessel in the brain, blocking blood flow for a short time, usually caused by plaque buildup.

The good news is that TIAs do not usually cause permanent brain damage; however, they are a serious warning sign of a future stroke. So they should be taken seriously.

In fact, up to 40 percent of people who have experienced a TIA will go on to suffer an actual stroke. About 795,000 people in the United States have strokes each year.

Another interesting fact from the National Stroke Association is that about half of those who suffer a TIA don’t report it to their doctors.

No doubt my mother would have kept it to herself had it not been for some prodding to go see a doctor.

Strokes, both the mini ones and the real ones, are preventable.

To reduce the risk of a TIA, the stroke association recommends getting regular checkups to monitor blood pressure and cholesterol; not smoking (or quitting); drinking alcohol only in moderation (if at all); eating a healthy diet that limits saturated fats and trans fats; exercising regularly; and reducing stress.

Strokes can happen to anyone and at any time. Here’s hoping that the high-profile nature of Kubiak’s job will bring more awareness to TIAs and strokes in general.

To learn more, visit the National Stroke Association’s website at www.stroke.org.

• Joan Oliver is the assistant news editor for the Northwest Herald. She can be reached at 815-526-4552 or by email at joliver@shawmedia.com.

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