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A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is more commonly known as a transient stroke or mini-stroke. In contrast to its more deadly counterpart, a full-blown ischemic stroke, a TIA generally results in only short-term symptoms. Although in some cases permanent brain damage can result from the onset of a TIA, such debilitating effects are uncommon. A TIA can, in fact, serve as a very effective early warning device. It is estimated that up to one third of those persons experiencing a mini-stroke will go on to have a full ischemic stroke, often within ninety days.
Mini-strokes take place when a major artery is temporarily clogged by a blood clot. This clot prevents the brain from receiving the blood flow and oxygen it requires for proper functioning. The duration of the symptoms felt during a TIA are generally one to five minutes in length, although symptoms of lessening degree can sometimes be experienced as long as 24 hours after the initial attack.
The symptoms of a transient ischemic attack are very similar to those of a debilitating ischemic stroke. The only differences are the length of the attack and a greatly reduced risk of permanent brain damage and long-term disability. The onset of symptoms will be sudden and unexpected and may begin with numbness in the face and extremities, particularly the arms and legs. Typically, all of the symptoms will be felt on only one side of the body.
A person in the throes of a mini-stroke may seem confused, and have trouble both articulating and understanding words. Another common symptom is dizziness, vertigo, or great difficulty in walking. Sometimes the afflicted individual will have impaired sight, usually blurry or double vision in one or both eyes. The onset of a severe and painful headache, when there has been no history of such things in the past, can also be a telltale sign of a mini-stroke.
When symptoms of a mini-stroke take place, it is crucial that medical help be sought immediately. It is impossible for an untrained person to know if the affected individual is experiencing a TIA or a full ischemic stroke. These mini-strokes can often mimic the symptoms of other conditions, and only a qualified physician can make a proper diagnosis. Seeking the closest emergency room is critical in these situations. Medical knowledge has advanced to the degree that, even in the event of an ischemic stroke, long-term brain damage can be minimized if certain medications are administered within three hours of the attack.
My sister works in an emergency room. She tells me about people who come in for a diagnosis of a TIA episode. After it has been determined that they suffered a mini-stroke and not a full-blown stroke, we give them lots of information about how to treat their tendency to have strokes. A good proportion of those who have had a TIA will have a serious stroke sometimes in their life.
We nurses and doctors encourage them to go to their physician and set up a program to cut the risk of stroke.
Treatment may include life style changes, like stopping smoking, exercising more, and changing your diet.
More treatment might be taking medicine to keep the blood from clotting, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. There's a lot one can do to minimize the risk of stroke or TIAs.
It seems to me that TIAs are fairly common in people over sixty. I know of a number of older people who have had one or more TIAs. They have not had any after effects and have not had a major stroke in the years to come. I don't know what percentage of those who have TIAs have a full stroke soon after.
From what I've heard, it's important to see a doctor even if you experience minor symptoms of TIA and the symptoms go away. A friend had a severe stroke and now can't talk. It's important to get to an emergency room, if possible, no more than three hours after the stroke.