It’s called a transient ischemic attack, and it’s not a random event. A TIA stroke is often a warning sign; it’s your body telling you to get treatment, fast.
The type of stroke known as a TIA, or transient ischemic attack, can strike quickly, be over in only a few minutes, and leave its victim wondering what just happened. But don’t be fooled: Just because the TIA passed quickly and symptoms have stopped does not mean that it doesn’t require treatment.
Also called a mini-stroke or a warning stroke, a TIA resembles a stroke in that they have similar symptoms. And more importantly, like a tremor before an earthquake, a TIA is your body’s way of telling you a bigger stroke could be coming.
TIA Stroke: Mimicking Serious Stroke
Any of the following symptoms can indicate a stroke and warrant immediate medical attention. If they last for only a short time, you are likely having a TIA. Immediate treatment is still required since your body is telling you something is wrong if you have these symptoms:
- Weakness in your arm, hand, or leg
- Numbness on one side of your body
- Sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden confusion and trouble speaking
- Inability to understand what someone is saying
- Dizziness or loss of balance and coordination
- Sudden and severe headache
TIA Stroke: What’s Happening?
A TIA occurs when the blood supply to the brain is cut off because of some type of blockage, which can be a narrowed blood vessel or a blood clot. The difference between a TIA and an ischemic stroke is that a TIA quickly resolves itself because the blockage is temporary, and no damage is done to the brain. But what’s so important about a TIA is that it is a huge predictor of a larger stroke.
“TIAs are a highly under-recognized emergency. A TIA is a warning sign that you might suffer a stroke. If you suffer a TIA, you have a 5 percent chance of having a stroke in the next 48 hours,” says Arthur M. Pancioli, MD, distinguished professor of clinical research in emergency medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio.
TIA Stroke: How It’s Treated
Treatment of a TIA focuses on figuring out the cause and fixing it, to ward off a more serious stroke.
“We quickly examine these patients to look for a cause: Do they have a narrow vessel that we could potentially fix? An abnormality in the heart such that clots are passing from one side to the other? These are the kind of things you want to discover very quickly to prevent ensuing stroke,” says Dr. Pancioli. “Almost anyone who has a TIA should end up on some sort of a preventive medication, at least aspirin or something like it.”
Treatment doesn’t end in the emergency room. Patients also need “another workup within at least a week to look at risk factors, what things we can modify to try to diminish their long-term risk. If we can’t prevent ‘forever,’ let’s put it off a long time,” says Pancioli. “All too often I hear of stories of someone who had a TIA and didn’t get an aggressive workup until it’s too late.”
TIA Stroke: Prevention
Once the cause of the stroke has been identified and treated, a patient is evaluated for other stroke risk factors. Risk factors for stroke include diabetes, high blood pressure, family history, smoking, and heart disease. Blood thinning medications, called anticoagulants, and antiplatelet medications, medicine that prevents blood clots from forming, are often prescribed after a TIA to prevent stroke.
If doctors have discovered plaque or other build-up in the blood vessels that caused the stroke, surgery may be performed to allow blood to flow freely through the vessels and prevent another attack. Surgery may include:
- Carotid endarterectomy: This is a surgical procedure in which plaque is removed from the carotid artery in the neck.
- Angioplasty: During angioplasty, doctors place a catheter inside the blocked artery, expand it, and then insert a small metal stent that opens up the blood vessel to improve blood flow.
TIA Stroke: Lifestyle Modifications
Dietary changes are often recommended after a TIA, particularly for TIA patients who have stroke risk factors like diabetes and high blood pressure. A low-fat, low-sodium diet can help keep stroke risk factors in check.
TIA Stroke: A Wakeup Call
A TIA means that you’ve escaped an actual stroke and the significant damage it wreaks on the body for now. If you notice stroke symptoms that seem to go away quickly, you are likely having a TIA and should seek immediate emergency care. Go to an emergency room right away for a thorough examination to pinpoint what caused the TIA, get it fixed, and find out what you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
In addition, see your doctor regularly to make sure any stroke risk factors you may have are kept under control, and that you’re doing everything you can to prevent a serious stroke from coming.