Study looks for faster, cheaper way to diagnose mini-strokes

CALGARY – Calgary researchers are trying to find a blood test capable of detecting when patients are experiencing a form of mini-stroke called a transient ischemic attack (TIA).  A TIA occurs when a blood clot causes part of the brain to stop working. Symptoms are often temporary, but catching a TIA is critical because they can often be followed by a major stroke.

“There is a 10 per cent risk of going on to have a big stroke after having these transient symptoms, and the highest risk period is in the first 24 to 48 hours,” said Dr. Shelagh Coutts, a neuroscientist with the Hotchkiss Brain Institute.

Dr. Coutts is currently leading a study to try and find a better way to diagnose TIAs: trying to develop a simple blood test that can measure any proteins that may be associated with these types of attacks.

“We’re looking to develop a panel of protein markers in the blood that we can send off and either get a red light that says this person can’t go home, they’ve had a TIA, or a green light that a patient has almost certainly not had a TIA and they can go home.”

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Coutts believes up to 150,000 Canadians visit emergency departments with symptoms of a TIA each year.  Each patient requires up to $2,000 worth of scans and tests before doctors can make a diagnosis.  If the research is successful, a $5 blood test could be used instead.

Over the next four years, researchers in Calgary will ask patients who come to the Foothills Hospital with symptoms of TIA to participate in the study.  If patients agree, a blood sample will be sent to the Genome BC Proteomics Centre at the University of Victoria for analysis.

Symptoms of TIA and stroke include numbness or weakness on one side of the face or body and problems with speech. Anyone suffering from these symptoms should call 911 immediately.

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