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PLoS One. 2014 Aug 19;9(8):e104434. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0104434. eCollection 2014.

Delay in seeking medical help following Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) or "mini-stroke": a qualitative study.

Author information

Health Behaviour Change Research Group, School of Psychology, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland.
Applied Research Centre in Health & Lifestyle Interventions, Coventry University, Coventry, United Kingdom.
University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, Coventry, West Midlands, United Kingdom.
Manchester Centre for Health Psychology, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom.



Prompt treatment following Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) can reduce the risk of subsequent stroke and disability. However, many patients delay in making contact with medical services. This study aimed to explore TIA patients' accounts of delay between symptom onset and contacting medical services including how decisions to contact services were made and the factors discussed in relation to delay.


Twenty interviews were conducted with TIA patients in England. Using a previous systematic review as an initial framework, interview data were organised into categories of symptom recognition, presence of others and type of care sought. A thematic analysis was then conducted to explore descriptions of care-seeking relevant to each category.


Delay in contacting medical services varied from less than an hour to eight days. Awareness of typical stroke symptoms could lead to urgent action when more severe TIA symptoms were present but could lead to delay when experienced symptoms were less severe. The role of friends and family varied widely from deciding on and enacting care-seeking decisions to simply providing transport to the GP practice. When family or friends played a greater role, and both made and enacted care-seeking decisions, delays were often shorter, even when patients themselves failed to identify symptoms. Healthcare professionals also impacted on patients' care-seeking with greater delays in seeking further care for the same episode described when patients perceived a lack of urgency during initial healthcare interactions.


This study provides new information on patients' decisions to contact medical services following TIA and identifies overlapping factors that can lead to delay in receiving appropriate treatment. While recognition of symptoms may contribute to delay in contacting medical services, additional factors, including full responsibility being taken by others and initial healthcare interactions, can over-ride or undermine the importance of patients' own identification of TIA.

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