By: on In Highlights

Transient ischemic attacks


What is a TIA?
This is similar to a stroke in terms of causes and symptoms, but only lasts a few minutes to hours and does not cause permanent damage.

In essence, a TIA is a kind of stroke in which the person is lucky enough that the blockage dissolves before causing permanent damage. Because there is no way to tell a passing TIA from a life-threatening stroke, it is vital to seek medical help as soon as the symptoms come up.

Who experiences these?
These can strike anyone, but certain people have risk factors. Be especially cautious of:

  • Age, particularly after 55.
  • Race – African Americans are at an increased risk of these events.
  • Sex – women are more likely to have a TIA or stroke.
  • Family history of stroke, particularly immediate family and grandparents.
  • Personal history of TIAs or stroke – even one increases risk severalfold.
  • Diabetes.
  • Obesity and lack of exercise – these raise the risk from many other factors on this list.
  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol work together to weaken the arteries and block them, raising the chance of the blood vessels rupturing.

  • Smoking, drinking, drug use, and some medications are all risk factors.

What causes a TIA
The short answer is, these attacks are caused by loss of blood flow to the brain. This can happen various ways:

  • A major artery carrying blood to the brain may narrow down, restricting flow.
  • A blood clot elsewhere in the body may break off, travel into the brain, and block one of the smaller vessels in there.
  • Finally, the blood vessels within the brain themselves may temporarily narrow. This is often caused by a build-up of cholesterol-based plaque.

Symptoms of a TIA
An easy way to remember the symptoms is by the acronym F.A.S.T.
Face drooping + Arm weakness + Speech difficulty = Time to call 911!

In more depth: The exact symptoms depend on which parts of the brain are being deprived of blood.

In most cases, there will be weakness or loss of motion in the face and limbs, usually on one side of the body.

This loss of muscle control extends to garbled speech, poor balance and coordination, and vision issues.

Cognition may also be affected, for example confusion, difficulty understanding simple commands, and expressing things that make no sense.

TIA management
The best treatment is through prevention – control as many risk factors as possible. Maintain a healthy weight and active lifestyle, keep blood pressure and cholesterol within healthy ranges, and work with a doctor if there are concerning risk factors.
If a TIA has already happened, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Treatment initially is to remove the clot, if it has not already broken up, and stabilize the patient. Blood thinning medication may be given, or surgeries to clear obstructions and reinforce weakened arteries through stents.

After that, the focus shifts to preventing future TIAs or full-blown strokes. The healthcare provider will work with the patient regarding meal plans or other lifestyle changes. It’s possible that some medications will be swapped out for others that have a lower risk of causing a stroke.

A transient ischemic attack is a major wake-up call. With prompt medical care and a courageous approach to lifestyle changes, many people go on to full and healthy lives without another TIA or a far more serious stroke.