Transient Ischemic Attacks
A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a mini-stroke that has the same symptoms of a stroke but does not cause any permanent damage. However, even if the numbness, confusion, slurred speech or sudden headache are fleeting, that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Those could be the warning signs of stroke. Approximately one-third of people who have had one or more TIAs eventually have a stroke.
A TIA occurs when blood supply to the brain is interrupted briefly. This can happen because of a clot or due to the buildup of fatty deposits called plaque in an artery. TIAs typically last less than five minutes. Symptoms appear quickly but do not last long, usually less than an hour.
Warning signs of a TIA or stroke include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, most often on one side of the body.
- Sudden confusion, slurred speech or difficulty understanding others.
- Sudden blindness, double vision or problems with vision.
- Loss of balance or coordination, dizziness or trouble walking.
- Rapid onset of a severe headache for no known reason.
It is important to seek medical help immediately if you or a loved one has a TIA. An evaluation done within an hour of the onset of symptoms can help identify the cause of the attack and determine appropriate treatment. Tests done to confirm a TIA diagnosis include carotid ultrasound, computerized tomography scanning, magnetic resonance imaging, transesophageal echocardiography or arteriography.
After the cause of the TIA has been identified, treatment will focus on correcting any abnormality and preventing a stroke using medications or surgery. Medications commonly prescribed to decrease the likelihood of a stroke include anti-platelet drugs, such as aspirin, and anticoagulants, including heparin and warfarin. A carotid endarterectomy may be recommended to surgically remove fatty deposits in the carotid artery in the neck. Some patients may require the placement of a stent in the carotid artery to keep it open.
Certain factors can put you at risk for having a TIA or stroke. These non-controllable risk factors include having a family history of the condition, as well as being male, older and African American. Controllable risk factors for TIA and stroke include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and homocysteine levels, blood disorders (such as sickle cell anemia), sleep apnea, migraine headaches, as well as cardiovascular, carotid artery and peripheral artery diseases.
Fortunately, you can make certain lifestyle changes to prevent a TIA:
- Quit smoking.
- Cut back on high cholesterol and fatty foods.
- Eat more vegetables and fruit.
- Limit amount of sodium.
- Exercise on a regular basis.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation.
- Stay at a healthy weight.
- Don’t use illegal drugs.
A TIA is your body’s way of warning you that you may be at risk for having a debilitating stroke. Listen. A future stroke could be avoided by treating underlying risk factors.