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Cold Weather Increases Stroke Risk

Mr. Wong, a full-time stockbroker, endures immense stress, working over 16 hours a day. Amidst his busy and tense life, he suddenly experienced dizziness, weakness, and numbness one day, but soon returned to normal. Fortunately, his wife insisted on taking him to the hospital, where doctors suggested he might have suffered a transient ischemic attack (TIA).

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Premonition of Stroke: Transient Ischemic Attack

What exactly is a transient ischemic attack? Known colloquially as a "mini-stroke," a TIA is charactesized by sudden, temporary neurological symptoms due to an abrupt disruption of blood flow to the brain. Unlike a full stroke, symptoms of a TIA resolve within 24 hours without leaving any permanent neurological damage.

Risk Factors for Stroke and TIA

Risk factors for ischemia or stroke can be congenital or acquired. Congenital factors include the thickness of the carotid arteries; men typically have thicker carotid arteries than women, thus having a higher stroke risk. Additionally, individuals with a family history of stroke also face a higher risk.


Acquired risk factors include high blood pressure, smoking, heart disease, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and heavy alcohol consumption. Main symptoms of a TIA include:


  1. Sudden weakness or numbness in one side of the body.

  2. Brainstem ischemia symptoms, such as dizziness, double vision, unsteady gait, and confusion.

  3. Symptoms of ophthalmic artery obstruction, such as sudden unilateral blindness, recovering gradually over seconds to minutes.


High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease have been directly or indirectly linked to stroke risk. According to a 2007 study published in "Spikes Journal," one-third of patients who experience a TIA are at risk of having a stroke within 48 hours. Frequent or prolonged TIAs increase the likelihood of a full-blown stroke, with about 30% evolving into cerebral strokes.

Preventing Mini-Strokes Through Lifestyle

Regular Health Checks:

Those with high blood pressure should seek treatment early and routinely monitor their blood pressure.


Healthy Diet:

Reduce intake of fats, sugars, and salt to maintain a balanced diet, avoid overeating, and keep a normal weight.


Moderate Exercise:

Develop a habit of gentle exercise like walking or Tai Chi based on personal interests and environmental factors to reduce cholesterol and improve blood circulation.


Avoid Triggers:

Steer clear of stroke triggers such as strenuous exercise, drinking alcohol, smoking, chronic insomnia, emotional excitement, anger, and constipation.


Appropriate Bathing Temperature:

Keep bathing water neither too cold nor too hot (recommended between 26 to 40 degrees Celsius). Elderly should not hastily try hot springs; rapid changes in body temperature can cause positional hypotension and falls, especially if they soak in hot water and suddenly stand up.

Room Temperature

The key to triggering strokes is not the absolute temperature but the degree of temperature change. 

Temperature Changes and Stroke Risk

The incidence of strokes increases every winter, not due to the cold itself but because of rapid temperature changes challenging the body's adaptive capacities. This adaptation weakens with age or existing cardiovascular diseases. Elderly people not only have aged blood vessels but also diminished capacity to regulate vascular contraction and relaxation. Sudden temperature changes can lead to fluctuations in blood pressure and heart rate. If blood pressure is usually poorly controlled, sudden temperature changes can make it even more difficult to manage, significantly increasing the risk of stroke.


In addition to environmental factors, strokes often occur at night or early morning, correlating with sudden changes in external temperatures. For example, many elderly people warm up overnight but face a significant temperature difference when they go out in the morning, which their bodies may not withstand. The most dangerous scenario is when a person has had a stroke without realizing it. Some transient ischemic attacks resolve within a day, such as sudden blindness in one eye, temporary deafness, or loss of facial expression, which can quickly return to normal. Often referred to as "mini-strokes," these incidents are frequently overlooked once symptoms subside.


Besides environmental temperature differences, about 40% of strokes are closely linked to high blood pressure, which can make cerebral vessels hard and brittle, prone to rupture or forming atherosclerotic plaques that narrow the vessels. High cholesterol accelerates the formation of atherosclerotic plaques in the artery walls, and diabetes can cause vascular changes and speed up arteriosclerosis. Additionally, individuals who have had myocardial infarction, heart failure, rheumatic heart disease, artificial heart valves, arrhythmias, atrial fibrillation, or even cancer and periodontal disease might have increased stroke risks due to chronic infections or inflammation making their vessels more prone to hardening.


Readers are reminded that symptoms of a mini-stroke are short-lived and often resolve without specific treatment, leading many to underestimate their severity and delay seeking medical help. Describing a mini-stroke as a ticking health bomb is apt. Prompt medical consultation, accurate diagnosis, and active management can significantly reduce the risk of a severe future stroke.


In essence, strokes do not vary in severity; the presence of neurological symptoms indicates potentially significant underlying issues. Individuals, especially those over 50 or with a family history, should seek immediate medical attention to prevent strokes. 

Eye Close Up

Symptoms of ophthalmic artery obstruction, such as sudden unilateral blindness lasting from a few seconds to several minutes, are among the primary indicators of transient ischemic attacks.

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