- TIAs don’t cause permanent brain damage or disability.
- One of the most common TIA symptoms is motor disruption.
- You can reduce your risk of TIA and stroke.
A transient ischemic attack (TIA), or ministroke, occurs when part of the brain experiences a temporary lack of blood flow. This causes stroke-like symptoms that resolve within 24 hours. Unlike a stroke, a TIA doesn’t kill brain tissue or cause permanent disabilities. Since symptoms of a TIA and a stroke are nearly identical, you should seek immediate emergency attention if you experience any symptoms.
Knowing the signs of a TIA can help you get the treatment you need as early as possible. Since 1 in 3 people who experience a TIA later experience a stroke, early treatment is essential.
How long does a TIA last?
The symptoms of a TIA can last as briefly as one minute. Often, the symptoms are gone by the time you get to a doctor.
Symptoms may not be present while a doctor is evaluating you, so you have to describe the event after your symptoms have disappeared. A person’s description of a ministroke may be less precise than a person who had a stroke.
Because of the fleeting nature of the symptoms, and the absence of long-term damage, it’s easy to consider a TIA minor. But that’s not true. It can be difficult to identify that you had a TIA, but a few symptoms may indicate it.
Most common symptoms
The most common symptoms of a TIA are:
- vision changes
- trouble speaking
- balance issues
- muscular weakness generally on one side of the body
A TIA may also cause:
- an altered level of consciousness
- passing out
- an abnormal sense of taste
- an abnormal sense of smell
- weakness or numbness on just one side of the body or face
The location of the blood clot in the brain will determine exactly where the weakness occurs.
People with TIA may temporarily find themselves unable to speak. After a TIA, people may tell their doctor that they had difficulty recalling words during the event. Other speech problems may include trouble saying a word or understanding words.
This condition is called dysphasia. In fact, dysphasia is sometimes the only symptom of a TIA. Trouble speaking indicates that the blockage or blood clot that caused the TIA occurred in the dominant brain hemisphere.
Temporary blindness in one eye
Sometimes, a TIA manifests as a particular visual disturbance known as transient monocular blindness (TMB).
In TMB, a person’s vision in one eye becomes suddenly dimmed or obscured. This may last for seconds or minutes. In TMB, the world turns gray or objects look blurry. Exposure to bright light can aggravate a TMB. You may not be able to read words on white pages.
Call 911 or go to the emergency room if you’re having any of these symptoms.
If your doctor has diagnosed you with high blood pressure, it’s important to keep track of your blood pressure on a routine basis. You should invest in a home blood pressure machine to monitor your blood pressure.
Sometimes, people have “white coat hypertension.” This means that your blood pressure can be higher than usual in your doctor’s office due to anxiety about having your blood pressure checked.
Keeping track of your blood pressure at home can give your doctor a more accurate assessment of your routine blood pressure and enable them to adjust your blood pressure medications more effectively.
If you have an at-home machine, you should check your blood pressure immediately if you experience:
- a lack of coordination
- gait disturbance
If you don’t have a way to check your blood pressure at home, you should call your doctor immediately, or go to a local urgent care center or a local emergency room. High blood pressure can lead to damage of the inner walls of the arteries. This creates plaque that can rupture and lead to blood clots in these arteries. These abnormalities can lead to a TIA or a stroke.
Other risk factors for TIA and stroke include:
- high cholesterol
- atrial fibrillation
According to one study:
- Men are more likely than women to experience TIAs.
- Older people are also more at risk than younger people.
- TIAs are reportedly most frequent on Mondays.
While a TIA doesn’t lead to permanent brain damage, you need an urgent medical examination if you experience symptoms of a TIA because these symptoms are identical to the symptoms of a stroke and it isn’t possible for you to tell whether your symptoms are related to a TIA or a stroke. Making this distinction requires a medical evaluation.
TIA symptoms are temporary and don’t cause permanent damage to brain tissue. Stroke symptoms are permanent and result in permanent damage to brain tissue. However, stroke symptoms may improve with time. If your symptoms are due to a TIA, you’re at risk for experiencing a stroke since TIAs and strokes have the same cause.
The only way to tell the difference between a TIA and a stroke is by looking at an image of your brain with either a CT or an MRI.
If you’ve had a stroke, it’s likely that it won’t show up on a CT scan of your brain for 24-48 hours. An MRI usually shows a stroke sooner. In evaluating the cause of the TIA or stroke, you’ll need an ultrasound to see if there’s a significant blockage or plaque in your carotid arteries as well as an echocardiogram to look for blood clots in your heart. You may also get an ECG and chest X-ray.
Several treatment options are available. TIAs don’t cause lasting brain tissue damage or disabilities, but they can be an early warning sign or precursor for a stroke. Treatment of TIAs focuses on starting or adjusting medications that improve blood flow to the brain and identifying abnormalities that your doctor can fix to reduce your risk of future TIAs or strokes.
Treatment options include:
This medication makes your platelets less likely to stick together, and it helps to prevent blood clots. Aspirin is one drug that people commonly take for this purpose. Plavix and Effient are other antiplatelet medications that are also very effective but work by a different mechanism than aspirin. Another drug that may be prescribed is Aggrenox, which combines aspirin with a drug called dipyridamole. This combination can be very effective in reducing the risk of TIA or stroke.
These medications prevent blood clots by targeting proteins that cause clotting, instead of the platelets. This category includes warfarin (Coumadin) and drugs like Xarelto and Eliquis. If you’re taking warfarin, you’ll need close monitoring of blood tests to make sure you’re on the correct dose. Taking drugs like Xarelto and Eliquis doesn’t require monitoring.
Minimally invasive carotid intervention
This is a surgical procedure that involves accessing the carotid arteries with a catheter inserted through the femoral artery in your groin and using a balloon-like device to open up clogged arteries. Your doctor will place a stent or small wire tube inside the artery at the point of narrowing to improve blood flow to the brain.
You may need surgery to prevent future strokes. If you have a severe narrowing of the carotid artery, which is in your neck, and you aren’t a candidate for a carotid angioplasty and stenting, your doctor may recommend a surgery called a carotid endarterectomy. Your doctor clears the carotid arteries of fatty deposits and plaques. This can reduce the risk for another TIA or a stroke.
Lifestyle changes may be necessary to reduce your risk of future TIAs or strokes. Medications and other medical interventions may not be enough. These lifestyle changes include:
- losing weight
- reducing your sodium intake
- eating more fruits and vegetables
- reducing your intake of fried or sugary foods
- getting enough sleep
- reducing stress
- improving your control of other medical conditions including diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol
TIAs and other types of strokes are sometimes unavoidable, but you can take precautions to help prevent TIAs. If you’ve had a TIA, you’re at risk for a stroke.
You can do the following to prevent TIAs and strokes:
- Don’t smoke.
- Avoid secondhand smoke.
- Eat a healthy diet with more fruits and vegetables.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Limit your alcohol intake.
- Don’t use illicit drugs.
- Control your diabetes.
- Reduce your sodium intake.
- Limit your cholesterol and fat intake, especially your intake of saturated and trans fats.
- Make sure your blood pressure is under good control.
- Reduce stress.