Rapid treatment of mini-strokes massively reduces the risk of a major stroke by 80%, a Lancet study shows.
Rapid assessment may be key
The risk of a major stroke occurring in the first month after a minor stroke - a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) - is currently 10%.
But a team at Oxford's Radcliffe found the risk was transformed by prompt drug treatment.
Such actions, if universally applied, could prevent almost 10,000 strokes per year in the UK alone, they say.
TRANSIENT ISCHAEMIC ATTACK
Symptoms similar to a stroke, such as slurred speech, dizziness, or numbness on one side of the body
Unlike a stroke symptoms disappear completely over several hours
Caused by a temporary interruption in blood flow to the brain and can be a warning sign of a major stroke
In the first part of the study patients had to wait for an average of three days for an assessment, and an average of 20 days to receive treatment - usually drugs - in a standard primary care setting.
Among this group of 310 patients, 10.3% had a major stroke within 90 days of first seeking medical attention.
However, in the second part of the study patients were assessed and given treatment at a specialist clinic within one day. In this group of 281, the risk of a stroke within 90 days was cut to 2.1%.
The reduction in risk was independent of age and sex, and early treatment did not increase the risk of bleeding or other complications.
In a separate study, published by the journal Lancet Neurology, a team at Denis Diderot University in Paris set up a hospital clinic with 24-hour access to treat patients with suspected TIAs.
Patients received a comprehensive assessment within four hours of admission.
Once again speedy care cut the risk of a recurrent stroke by almost 80%.
Joe Korner, of The Stroke Association, said the research was of the "utmost importance".
"It clearly shows that thousands of people could be saved from life shattering strokes every year, simply by making sure that everyone who has a TIA or minor stroke gets currently available treatment quickly.
"This is not about a brand new technology, or a costly intervention. This is about organising our services so that TIAs or minor strokes are always treated, and treated urgently.
"This research should be a clarion call to all local health providers to make the changes in organisation needed so that everyone who has a TIA or minor stroke gets the stroke prevention treatment that could save their life."
The government is currently consulting on plans for a National Stroke Strategy.