What is a TIA? Learning the answer to that question could save your life: Transient ischemic attack symptoms are often warnings of an impending stroke.
A transient ischemic attack, often called a TIA, is frequently referred to as a “mini-stroke.” But what is a TIA, exactly?
TIAs are called “mini” or transient strokes because most full-blown strokes are caused the same way as a TIA. A transient ischemic attack occurs when the blood supply to part of your brain is briefly interrupted by a clot or blockage.
Unlike a stroke, however, transient ischemic attack symptoms develop and disappear quickly, sometimes over the course of a few minutes, and leave no lasting damage. So, it’s not surprising transient ischemic attack symptoms are often ignored as simply strange, but passing, sensations of no real importance. That can be a deadly mistake.
A TIA is an important warning sign that a stroke leading to potential disability and even death could be on the horizon if you don’t seek help, the American Stroke Association warns. About a third of people who have a transient ischemic attack will eventually have an acute stroke, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Transient ischemic attack symptoms
Understanding TIAs can save lives in the long-term. That’s why the American Stroke Association urges calling 911 right away if you, or someone you know, experiences one or more of these transient ischemic attack symptoms:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of your face, arm, or leg — especially on one side of your body
- Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, or trouble walking
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
- Sudden difficulty or confusion while trying to talk or understand speech
- Sudden vision problems in one or both eyes
Don’t ignore TIAs
Although getting immediate medical attention and treatment for TIAs can go a long way toward preventing strokes, the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association suggest most Americans who experience TIAs ignore the symptoms. A survey of over 2,000 people found about a third had experienced symptoms consistent with a transient ischemic attack, but only three percent called 911.
“Ignoring any stroke sign could be a deadly mistake,” Mitch Elkind, MD, chairman of the American Stroke Association said. “Only a formal medical diagnosis with brain imaging can determine whether you’re having a TIA or a stroke.”
It’s important to follow the advice of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Treat any transient attack symptoms as a medical emergency.
Depending on your medical history and the results of an examination, treatment to reduce the risk of stroke in people who have had a TIA may include surgery to prevent a blockage-caused stroke or drug therapy — such as low dose aspirin or anticoagulants in people with atrial fibrillation (irregular beating of the heart), a condition that raises the risk for clot-caused TIAs and strokes.
Stroke kills about 140,000 Americans each year, resulting in 1 out of every 19 deaths. It’s the leading cause of serious long-term disability in Americans, too, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fortunately, most strokes can be prevented.
In addition to recognizing and taking action if you experience transient ischemic attack symptoms, the National Institutes of Health offers these additional stroke prevention strategies.
- Lifestyle changes and medication (if needed) to lower high blood pressure.
- Lose excess pounds if you are overweight, then maintain a healthy weight.
- Don’t smoke.
- If you have heart disease or diabetes, work with your doctor to manage your condition.
May 03, 2023
Janet O’Dell, RN