Thursday, September 20, 2012

What in the world is a Transient Ischemic Attack???

A Transient Ischemic Attack, also known as TIA, is a mini-stroke, and we are approaching the age when one might just sneak up on us. Knowing what to watch for and what to do just might save your life or that of someone else.

Most of the time, they don't cause serious damage, but recent Canadian research has shown that within ninety days after a TIA, 12% of patients found their disability worsening, even if they didn't have another mini-stroke.

Often, the first occurrence of symptoms is the only warning sign. DO NOT IGNORE IT!!! Call 911 immediately!

What Causes TIAs?

A TIA occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain stops briefly. It is a warning of more serious problems to come. The flow of blood is cut off because:
  • There is a clot in an artery in the brain
  • A clot has traveled to the brain from somewhere else
  • An injury to blood vessels
  • Narrowing of a vessel in or near the brain

Risk Factors

High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for TIAs and strokes. The others are:
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of stroke
  • High cholesterol
  • Age over 55
  • Race - African-Americans are more likely to die from strokes
Here's a weird one for you: men whose parents divorced while they were children have a three-fold risk of stroke.

Symptoms of a mini-stroke

The list of possible symptoms, which can last 1-2 hours or up to 24 hours, is long:
  • Vertigo or dizziness
  • Unusual sleepiness or unconsciousness
  • Changes in feeling: touch, pain, temperature, pressure, hearing, or taste
  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty writing or reading
  • Drooping of face
  • Inability to recognize objects or people
  • Lack of bladder or bowel control
  • Lack of coordination and balance, clumsiness, trouble walking
  • Loss of vision in one or both eyes
  • Numbness or tingling on one side of the body
  • Personality, mood, or emotional changes
  • Trouble saying or understanding words
  • Weakness on one side of the body
Symptoms almost always disappear before you get to the hospital. GO ANYWAY!

At the Hospital

They are going to run some tests - maybe lots of tests:
  • Head CT Scan or Brain MRI - strokes show changes, TIAs don't
  • Angiogram - to find out which vessel is blocked or bleeding
  • Echocardiogram, if the doctor thinks the clot came from your heart
  • Carotid Duplex (ultrasound) - can show if the carotid artery in neck has narrowed
  • EKG - to check for irregular heartbeat
Maybe some other tests will be ordered to check for other causes or risks of stroke, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or high cholesterol.


After a TIA, the goal is to prevent a stroke. You will probably have to take a blood thinner. If the neck artery is blocked, they will treat that. And, if they find you have an irregular heartbeat, that will be dealt with to prevent future problems.


TIAs don't cause lasting damage to the brain, but it is a warning sign that you will probably have a real stroke soon. More than 10% of the people who have a TIA will have a stroke within three months. And in one-half of them, it will happen within 48 hours. Do not wait! Do not ignore the symptoms just because they go away. CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY!

Thank you to Dr. Khaalisha Ajala and ABC News for publishing the story that brought this to my attention. Almost all of my facts and figures come from the National Institute for Health's website:



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