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Ischemic Attack (TIA)
A Mini-Stroke Can
Lead to a Full-Blown Stroke
By Pam Peters
A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is sometimes called a mini-stroke, with stroke symptoms that last less than 24 hours before disappearing. While TIAs generally do not cause permanent brain damage, they are a serious warning sign of a potential stroke and should not be ignored. TIAs happen to more than 240,000 Americans every year.
Up to 40 percent of all people who have experienced a TIA will go on to have an actual stroke. In fact, risk for stroke is especially high in the first few days after a TIA. Within 3 months after a TIA, 10% to 15% of people will have a stroke, but most studies show that nearly half of all strokes occur within the first 2 days after a TIA.
The symptoms of a TIA and regular stroke are the same. Someone having a TIA or stroke might experience one or more of the following sudden symptoms:
- Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
Trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
If you or someone else has any of these symptoms, even for a short time, call 911 or go to the hospital immediately.
You cannot tell the difference between a TIA and stroke; only a doctor can determine the difference. If it is a TIA, your doctor might be able to identify the cause and help treat you, potentially reducing risk of a future stroke. Many people who have a TIA do not seek treatment because symptoms subside quickly. But if you have had a TIA, the chances are high that you will have another TIA or even a full-blown stroke.
A TIA can be caused by the same things that might cause a stroke, such as a blocked blood vessel. When a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked, even for a short period of time, the blood flow to that area of the brain slows or stops. This lack of blood and oxygen often leads to TIA symptoms such as slurred speech or blurry vision.
The risk factors are the same as a regular stroke and include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. Read more about TIA risk factors at stroke.org/TIA.
If you have had a TIA, your doctor might order some or all of the following tests to determine the cause of your TIA:
Blood clotting test.
X-rays or brain scans seeking blockages in the arteries. These tests are called ultrasound scanning and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Heart-related tests searching for an irregular heartbeat.
Be sure to know the risk factors of a TIA and manage those. If you suspect you are having a TIA or stroke, call 911 immediately.
Start by following your doctor’s prescriptions for treating high blood pressure, high cholesterol
and diabetes. Enjoy a healthy lifestyle: eat a low-sodium diet abundant in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, quit smoking and start an appropriate exercise program. Maintaining an ideal weight for your height and managing high blood pressure are also important for TIA prevention. Talk to a doctor about the best prevention options for you. He or she might recommend:
Drugs to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease.
Medicines to help prevent blood clots from forming to reduce the risk of a full-blown stroke.
Surgery (endarterectomy and stenting) to open the artery and prevent a stroke if the TIA is caused by blockage in the main neck artery that supplies blood to the brain.
Pam Peters is Principal Writer and Founder of Words Abound.
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